Airport solar plant goes online

With the flip of two switches at the nation’s largest renewable power installation, the Cook Islands is now on its way to loosening its reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Yesterday morning, Traditional Leaders, Members of Parliament, government officials, and members of the private sector honoured the completion of construction on ‘Te Mana o Te Ra’ – a solar power energy plant consisting of over 3000 solar panels that hopes to generate nearly one megawatt of energy, roughly 5 per cent of the islands needs.

At a ceremony held between the rows of solar panels that have been installed at Rarotonga International Airport, Prime Minister Henry Puna spoke of his Government’s commitment to renewable energy, and how the solar plant contributes to the goal of having the Cook Islands 100 per cent powered by renewable energy by 2020.

“Somebody once said, never fear to dream, for dreams are visions of reality,” he said. “We are here to celebrate a dream.”

Puna extended his thanks to the government of New Zealand for supporting the nation’s renewable energy aspirations by funding the installation, which he said has the potential to reduce emissions by 1050 tonnes.

Speaking at the event, New Zealand High Commissioner Joanna Kempkers commended the PM for his commitments to renewables since assuming office in 2010.

“Reflecting on the past, the Prime Minister knew then that the reliance on imported diesel and exposure to the price of oil was both a constraint on development of the Cook Islands economy, but also a risk to its future development,” she said.

“But where he and his government showed true wisdom, was to show a vision, to prepare opportunities for the future.”

“Barely three years later, as we look out across this array of solar panels, we can be justly proud of this first major step towards the greater Cook Islands vision and goal of having the electricity supplied by 100 per cent renewable energy sources, and of what has been achieved so quickly,” she said.

Construction on Te Mana o Te Ra (The Power of the Sun) began earlier this year under the guidance of lead contractor Infratec NZ Ltd.

Local firms Mike Rennie Builders and Andersons Electrical also participated in construction by undertaking civil works civil construction and DC electrical works, respectively.

New Zealand has invested $3.3 million in the project as part of the European Union and New Zealand Energy Access Partnership.

Representing Infratec, General Manager Peter Apperley spoke at the ceremony, thanking the project’s stakeholders and wished the country success in reaching the renewable energy targets.

In concluding her address, Kempkers said, “... kia tere te karohirohi i mua i tou huarahi”.
“May the shimmer of light ever dance across your pathway, or in this case, your solar panels,” she said.