18 September 2015

Transition to solar power for Cook Islands

3 News - News from New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Just beside the Cook Islands' only international airport, there's a paddock full of solar panels.

It's something of a jarring sight - rows and rows of shiny black solar panels, 3000 in all, hemmed in by a wire fence, set against a backdrop of lush rainforest and towering, rocky outcrops.

The solar power plant - Te Mana o te Ra, meaning power from the sun - was built last year on one of the rare large flat areas of Rarotonga, with the help of $3.3 million of funding from New Zealand.

The plant churns out about a megawatt of energy in the middle of the day and it meets around five percent of Rarotonga's electricity demand.

It's designed for the unique conditions of Rarotonga, meaning it can withstand the odd tropical cyclone and the constant blast of jet engines.

It's another step towards the Cook Islands' goal of being powered entirely by renewable energy sources by 2020, having already hit the target of being 50 percent renewable by 2015.

New Zealand aid programme manager Joseph Mayhew says the switch to renewable energy sources has a host of benefits for the Cook Islands.

It reduces fuel bills - savings to the tune of about $500,000 a year - and reduces the Pacific nation's dependence on imported diesel and petroleum for electricity generation, he said.

That in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions by over 1000 tonnes a year.

Mr Mayhew says New Zealand has also been instrumental in getting solar power to six of the more remote northern islands in the Cook group.

The $20m investment means the island of Pukapuka, which didn't have reticulated electricity previously, now has access to a modern amenity most take for granted.

Over the last three years, New Zealand has provided $78 million in aid to the Cook Islands.

Just over 40 per cent of that has been spent on infrastructure projects, including renewable energy, water supply and sanitation.

The New Zealand government is committing another $64m or so to a variety of projects over the next three years.

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