First solar panels installed at Rarotonga solar farm

Construction of a massive solar energy system at Rarotonga Airport has taken a big leap forward with the first of more than 3000 panels installed yesterday.

New Zealand High Commissioner Joanna Kempkers and Elizabeth Wright-Koteka from the Office of the Prime Minister donned hardhats and took up tools for the milestone event.

To help meet the Government’s bold target – to be 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy by 2020 - a $3.3 million solar array is being built to the west of the airport.

The solar project ‘Te Mana O Te Ra’ involves the installation of 3051 photovoltaic panels, capable of producing up to 960 kilowatts, or about five per cent of Rarotonga’s energy needs.

Foundations started being laid in June and the shipment of panels finally arrived last week.

Kempkers, who helped screw the first panel in yesterday, said the event was a significant one for the Cook Islands and she was thrilled to see it happen.

“When I arrived here about two years ago, we were just beginning the process of getting a renewable energy chart in place. Here we are today putting the first panels in for the first utility-scale project that will help the country get towards its goals.”

Kempkers said the New Zealand Aid Programme was “very pleased” to be supporting the project, which will result in the country’s largest solar power system.

Wright-Koteka expressed thanks to the New Zealand Government for funding the project.

“This development is a major step in the Cook Islands’ journey towards reducing the dependence on fossil fuel-generated electricity, as will the parallel project in the Northern Group which will move into the construction phase in the next few months.”

Te Mana O Te Ra is expected to be completed during October this year.

New Zealand company Infratec Renewables Ltd (formerly NETcon International) is the main contractor but local business Mike Rennie Builders Ltd is doing the civil construction.

Andersons Ltd will be doing all the electrical work in the multi-million project, including hooking up the 11,000-volt transformer which feeds power into the grid.

The solar installation will lead to an estimated reduction of 370,000 litres of diesel fuel imports per year, worth about $529,100 in savings.