Solar project foundations underway

Monday July 21, 2014 Written by Mark Ebrey/Ben Chapman-Smith Published in Environment
Concrete berms to mount solar panels on are steadily being completed at Rarotonga Airport. 14072001 Concrete berms to mount solar panels on are steadily being completed at Rarotonga Airport. 14072001

Foundations for the $3.3 million solar array at the Rarotonga Airport are rapidly taking shape ahead of the arrival of the solar panels to be erected on them.


The 961 kW photo-voltaic array is part of the Cook Islands Renewable Energy Project and will produce about six per cent of Rarotonga’s energy needs when it comes on line in October.


New Zealand company Infratec Renewables Ltd (formerly NETcon International) is the main contractor but local business Mike Rennie Builders Ltd is doing the civil construction.

Andersons Ltd will be doing all the electrical work in the multi-million project, including hooking up the 11,000-volt transformer which feeds power into the grid.

Elizabeth Wright-Koteka, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, said in March that the project is being fully funded by the New Zealand Government. 

“It is estimated that the total project costs will be in the vicinity of $3.3 million, although there may be savings when implemented.”

Wright-Koteka said current geotechnical investigations may result in the changes to the way the panels are mounted which may translate into savings. 

“However, such savings will probably amount to maybe $300,000, meaning that the project would still be in the $3 million vicinity.”

She was unable to say what proportion of that money will end up in the pockets of local contractors.

The solar installation will be the largest in the Cook Islands to date and will lead to an estimated reduction of 370,000 litres of diesel fuel imports per year.

Wright-Koteka said that equates to approximately $529,100 in savings.

The contractor are waiting for nearly 4000 solar panels to be shipped over from New Zealand.

Named ‘Te Mana o te Ra’ – meaning ‘the power from the sun’ – the 961 kilowatt photovoltaic array will be the size of several house sites and provide about six per cent of Rarotonga’s annual electricity generation.

Steve Anderson, whose company Andersons Limited will be heavily involved in the project, said the 3800 panels arrive by ship transported in seven containers and will end up covering a 135-metre by 75-metre area on the site.

A range of other equipment and materials will also arrive with the panels, Anderson said.

“There’s going to be hundreds and hundreds of these support frames underneath.”

The panels will sit up to two metres off the ground, allowing for the grass to be mowed underneath. 

They will rest on a slight upward tilt, facing north, pointing away from the runway. 

The Government has set ambitious targets for 50 per cent renewable energy by 2015 and 100 per cent by 2020.

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