In a move that further advances its aspiration to be New Zealand’s first carbon neutral airport, Hawke’s Bay Airport has entered into a Joint Venture agreement with Waipukurau based lines company Centralines to explore the potential for a commercial solar farm on-Airport.
The agreement will see the parties work through a structured project development process to select technical partners and progress the project to an investment ready state. The intent beyond this is to establish a limited liability partnership through which a viable project could be funded and developed. It is anticipated that the project would be constructed in stages with resource consents to be sought for an array capable of producing up to 10 megawatts of electricity.
The airport has been investigating the potential of a renewable energy project for some time and sees investment in this area as an effective way of diversifying revenue and contributing to its broader sustainability framework. The project will not only generate sufficient electricity to meet the airport’s own requirements, it will also supply surplus energy to others looking for a 100% renewable supply.
Whilst the initial business case will involve the sale of energy to external parties, Hawke’s Bay Airport CEO Stuart Ainslie sees a future where the airport can maintain carbon neutrality as it grows. “We’re anticipating some significant innovation in the aviation industry, particularly post COVID-19 which could result in demand for electricity growing rapidly. This is already starting to happen on the landside of our business with electric and hybrid vehicles and if airlines pursue hybrid technology for short haul routes then this could grow exponentially. If this is the future then the scalable nature of the project will ensure the airport is in the best possible position to work collaboratively with key partners such as Air New Zealand”.
Centralines have also been actively monitoring the changing energy generation landscape and are excited by the opportunities presented by this project. “Centraline’s vision is to be a collaborative partner that enables growth and delivers in the new energy economy” explains Centralines Chair Jon Nichols. “Hawkes Bay Airport is an innovator and we are very pleased to have been invited to be part of their solar farm project development. The joint venture is well positioned to work through all the key issues that require sign off prior to any final decision to build.”
Nichols also noted that Centralines was looking at a number of additional opportunities in its own network area based in Central Hawkes Bay “We must evolve as our customers needs evolve and this project offers us a great opportunity to increase our understandings of the energy generation market, learnings that will be invaluable for our own growth agenda in Central Hawkes Bay”
The area identified for development is to the west of the airport’s main runway. Height restrictions prevent the land from being built on thus making solar an ideal way to leverage its otherwise largely redundant value. Whilst an on-airport solar project of this magnitude would be a first in New Zealand there are a growing number of precedents at airports around the world. “We’ve been keeping an eye on how some of our global peers have successfully leveraged solar” says Ainslie. “There is a lot happening in this space as the aviation industry accepts the role it must play in reducing global emissions”.
The project team will be calling for expressions of interest from potential technical partners over the coming weeks and intend to apply for resource consent later in the year. All going well the initial stage of construction is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2021.