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Kōwhai Park to help large-scale solar take flight

  • 10 Feb 2023
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  • Christchurch
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  • Aviation
  • Energy
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Waitaha/Canterbury will soon be home to one of the country’s largest solar energy farms, with the Kōwhai Park renewable energy precinct at Christchurch Airport soon to get underway.

After a year-long tender process, Christchurch Airport has announced a partnership with Contact Energy and international solar developer Lightsource bp to deliver the first phase of the project, a 300-hectare solar farm adjacent to the airport.

While initially featuring around 300,000 solar panels – enough to meet the annual electricity needs of 36,000 homes – the park’s future ambitions include green hydrogen generation aimed at powering future low-emission domestic flights, data centres and other high users of energy.

“Kōwhai Park will enable low emissions aviation and help provide the extra green energy New Zealand needs to transition away from fossil fuels,” said Christchurch Airport chief executive Justin Watson. “We’re excited to have found partners with the technical capability to do this well and the values to ensure it’s done right.”

Christchurch Airport’s chief executive Justin Watson
Christchurch Airport’s chief executive Justin Watson

An important part of New Zealand’s renewable transition

Speaking about the partnership, Contact Energy CEO Mike Fuge noted the importance of projects like Kōwhai Park in meeting climate goals.

“We’ve committed to creating up to 380,000 megawatt hours of grid-scale solar generation by 2026, this project will deliver over half of that. As a partnership we are looking forward to working on Kōwhai Park Christchurch Airport to achieve our environmental aspirations and deliver on our commitment to lead New Zealand’s decarbonisation.”

Kōwhai Park will enable low emissions aviation and help provide the extra green energy New Zealand needs to transition away from fossil fuels.

Environment Canterbury, who leases 159 hectares of the land making up Kōwhai Park to Christchurch Airport, is pleased its assets are being put to good use.

“Many people don’t realise that Environment Canterbury is a significant landowner – it’s exciting to see some of that land being used in an innovative way to provide a large-scale source of renewable energy. This project will make a big difference to Canterbury’s efforts to decarbonise,” says Environment Canterbury chair Peter Scott.

Preparing for the future of aviation

Decarbonising and decoupling the aviation industry from fossil fuels is a huge challenge in the global fight against climate change. To meet New Zealand’s net zero by 2050 target, airlines and the airports that service are racing against the clock to develop reliable, zero and low-emission solutions.

Kōwhai Park’s proximity to Waitaha/Canterbury’s primary airport, and future plans to generate green hydrogen, are key factors in these solutions.

“Our goal is to ensure Kōwhai Park is ready to provide the large amount of green energy these new aircraft will need. This starts with the solar farm but we’re working to include green hydrogen generation down the track,” says Watson.

“This is an exciting time for aviation – zero and low-emission aircraft are not far away. Our job is to do all we can to ensure they can take off as soon as possible.”