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    Solar farming firm gets $15m boost


    September 27, 2023 - Peter Shand

     

      Asolar farm company has received a $15 million boost to help with the construction of a pipeline of consented, ground-mounted solar farm projects.

      Lightyears Solar received funding from New Zealand Green Investment Finance (NZGIF).

      Lightyears Solar has recently completed the construction of its first solar farm in Waiuku, South Auckland, with a 2.4MW operation that is the largest agrivoltaic and tracked solar farm in New Zealand.

      More projects are in the pipeline, including a 7MW solar farm in Ashburton and a 4.5MW solar farm in Wairarapa. They focus on mid-size, dual-use solar, which allows for productive agriculture to continue beneath solar panels.

      Matt Shanks, Lightyears Solar co-founder and head of development, said the finance from NZGIF would help build more farms.

      The finance came in the form of a long-term debt facility, he said.

      "NZGIF plays a significant role for us, in terms of debt finance for our solar farm construction.

      "As our solar farms are smaller in scale, NZGIF has filled the project finance role traditionally taken by large commercial banks and they support and understand what we are doing, and what our farms offer in terms of carbon abatement and reduced emissions."

      Shanks said the solar farms would produce clean energy and offset electricity produced using fossil fuels, which would contribute to New Zealand's goal to become carbon neutral.

      "While some of the power produced will make its way back to the national grid, we expect much of the electricity to be consumed by the communities who live close to our solar farms, improving the renewable proportion of the local power supply."

      NZGIF chief investment officer Jason Patrick said Lightyears Solar's approach, and the market segment it was serving, made it an "attractive opportunity".

      "Lightyears differentiates itself by developing multiple small to medium-sized solar farms designed to integrate into existing distribution networks."

      The Waiuku Solar Farm

      Lightyears' Waiuku Solar Farm has about 3700 panels over 3ha of farmland, providing 2.4MW of power to the local grid. This is enough to power 500 homes.

      Most of the panels are on a tracking system, allowing them to follow the sun during the day and capture as much energy as possible.

      The tracking solar system also works better with pasture growth and animal grazing than traditional fixed-mounted systems.

      The site is part of a larger working farm, and small animals like pigs and young calves will share the paddocks with the solar panels, allowing for continued agricultural productivity alongside clean energy generation.

      Electricity retailer Prime Energy has partnered with Lightyears Solar to purchase the output from the solar farms under a long-term power purchase agreement.

      Prime Energy specialises in supply to commercial customers, who have a greater need for daytime energy.

      Waiuku Solar Farm was built by McKay Electrical, a leading New Zealand electrical contractor, who was involved throughout the project, from electrical design through to installation and commissioning.

      The solar farm construction and testing are complete, with commissioning expected soon.?

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