Solar incentives for New Zealand farmers

Westpac and Meridian Energy have teamed up to offer New Zealand farmers access to low-interest credit to encourage investment in solar panels.

The initiative offers a resale program for farmers to sell power back to the energy grid, with Meridian Energy saying the deal could save individuals thousands of dollars on annual power bills.

Launched at the Agricultural Field Days event in June, one of the first to pilot the solar panels will be the Westpac Taranaki Agricultural Research Station in Hawera, which will provide an ongoing assessment and monitoring of the solar panels’ operation and cost savings on their dairy farm.

Westpac head of agribusiness Dave Jones said as part of Westpac’s 2013-2015 Sustainability Strategy, the bank is committed to supporting clean-tech business ideas.

“We’ve spoken to our agribusiness customers and we know they’re very concerned about sustainability. They are interested in getting into the solar energy space, but have been put off in the past by the cost and complexity of the solutions,” he said.

“The joint initiative has been designed to provide the customer with a return on their investment. We estimate the average break-even period to be around seven to eight years and expect the customer could potentially achieve electricity savings of more than $3000 per year.”

While the savings from solar are modest in comparison to a farmer’s overall energy bill, both Westpac and Meridian Energy state there is a significant opportunity for users to make money by selling any unused energy back into the grid at non-peak times.

Meridian Energy general manager of retail Bill Highet said grid-tied solar customers – those who can send electricity back to the grid – have been increasing dramatically.

“Solar panel prices have reduced, interest has increased in the technology, it now makes smart economic and environmental sense for the customer to invest and install. This offering allows for agribusiness customers to farm their own electricity and make a significant impact in reducing their energy costs.”

According to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) around 140,000kWh of solar energy falls on the roof of a typical farm shed each year.