Lodge owner reckons solar power winner

A Stewart Island man wants his fellow islanders to follow his lead on solar energy and go off the grid.

Since 1988, Rakiura-Stewart Island has used diesel for its electricity — and the hike on fuel prices and the Government’s goal to reduce carbon emissions has shone a light for the discussions on the future of energy on the island.

Sails Ashore Lodge owner Peter Tait became interested in solar power schemes after one of his visitors brought the subject up with him.

For a year, he tracked the energy trends in his Oban accommodation to understand whether it was feasible.

"At first I thought it would not work but I did some investigation and I was quite surprised with the figures I got from it."

When they received a $900-a-month energy bill last year, his wife, Iris, gave him the green light to put his solar plan in place.

He spent several thousand dollars on solar panels and batteries at their Oban accommodation and since March, his property has been completely off the electricity grid.

"We’ve been running it for five months now, it looks like our return will be something around 11-12% of the capital invested. It is quite a significant saving."

He said they had installed panels and storage, of which they could access 80% or about 19kW of energy.

Stewart Island’s Sails Ashore lodge owner Peter Tait has spent large on solar panels and...
Stewart Island’s Sails Ashore lodge owner Peter Tait has spent large on solar panels and batteries and he is pleased with his decision. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
He expected to only use his generator for six to 10 hours per month during winter, and about three hours per month during summer.

"Our home is all electric cooking. Once the batteries are full at present we manually direct excess electricity into heating our domestic and central heating water, which to date is cutting our heating diesel usage in half. Over summer we expect much better than that."

He said a solar project on their scale was unaffordable for most islanders, but suggested the Government or the Southland District Council could create a scheme in which it could lend money to residents to invest in buying and installing solar panels for their properties.

"The beauty of the loan scheme is that the council would not need to spend the money, they would loan it. So the capital asset is always there, and the profits can be used to add more supply, and/or batteries to utilise excess production."

His idea and his movement for solar power received some criticism from members of the community who considered its use would mean a loss to the community power scheme, he said.

Many feared if more people decided to go off-grid, the energy prices on the island would increase even more.

He said his proposal "just makes so much sense, as it is environmentally sound and also makes each consumer co-owners of the island power system. Perhaps, most importantly, it goes some way to insulating the community from the ever-rising cost of non-renewable energy."

Approached for comment, a Government spokeswoman said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had not been made aware of this idea, but the best first port of call would be the local council.

She said the business case for wind generation to replace diesel was being developed for the Chatham Islands and if this project went ahead and was deemed successful it could provide a useful model for Stewart Island.

While the Southland District Council group manager infrastructure and environmental services Matt Russel said council had been involved in many assessments of alternative energy options for the island in recent years.

"Unfortunately, none have proven viable to date. Council is confident that as technology improves and capital costs decrease, alternative supply options will become a reality for the island."

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