South next in line for solar power

Thursday May 28, 2015 Written by Published in Outer Islands

With the solar power project in the northern Islands now complete, all eyes have turned south.

The Renewable Energy Division is now in discussions to finalise the design and plan for solar power plants on all of the southern islands before a new tender is put out for their construction next year.

New Zealand will not be involved this time, with funding instead being provided by the Asian Development Bank, the European Union and the Japanese. 

Renewable energy engineer Ngateina Rani says the Japanese had originally provided $4.6 million for the Northern Group project, but the contract was terminated due to the conditions that came with the funds.

The conditions were that any supplies brought with the funds had to be from Japanese companies.

Rani says the funding would have only supplied three of the northern islands and so New Zealand stepped in with a $20.5 million investment for Rakahanga, Pukapuka, Nassau, Palmerston, Manihiki and Penrhyn.

However, Rani says the Japanese funding will be used to purchase supplies for solar power plants in the south.

“We will follow the conditions and will likely purchase Japanese solar panels which I am told a very good quality and therefore quite expensive.”

He says they want to make all the solar plants across the whole Cook Islands as similar as possible, but with different funding sources, there will be a few variations.

For example, if the solar panels for the south are brought from Japan, they will be different to panels in the northern group which were cheaper and made in China. 

Rani says they will still try to standardise as many other components as they can and expect the same New Zealand company which worked on installations in the north to continue in the south.

Funding is made up with $7.26 million from the EU, 12.98 million from the ADB and a grant of $4.9 million from the Global Environment Facility.

Finance Minister Mark Brown says they have been working ‘smartly’ with the financing from different groups to be able to cover the large costs of the project.

“The project in the Northern Islands cost over $20 million and it’s probably going to be around the same for the Southern Islands. New Zealand wouldn’t be able to cover it all so we had to look at other funding options.”

An economist from the US is in the Cook Islands this week to discuss the economic viability of the projects and whether or not the timeline for the project is practical.

The project aims to meet 95 per cent of the Cook Islands’ electricity demand, which will reduce diesel use by over 230,000 litres a year.

It is part of an overall plan by the Government to see the Cook Islands 100 per cent powered by renewable energy by 2020.

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