Free solar energy brings power back to marae

By Leah Te Whata
  • North Island: West Coast

A report has found an eighty percent price hike in electricity since the 90's, but Whangaehu Marae have their own solution, they're going solar.

It's the first of what's expected to be a nationwide initiative to reduce power bills and create employment while looking out for the environment.

Whangaehu Marae spokesperson Hawea Meihana says, "It's about us Māori taking back that ownership, sitting back into the driver's seat and leading what climate change looks like for us here at home."

Iwi partnership manager Kahn Denton says, "Fossil fuels are going to be gone soon so what are we going to do then?  Our people can be there standing at the front saying 'we made a change and we'll stand for the change'."

A substantial percentage of household income in Aotearoa is spent on electricity. 

Whangaehu has teamed up with Solar City to roll out free solar energy for marae and a cheaper option for whānau.

Denton says, "For every twenty installs that we do or twenty whare that have our panels, we will give free power for 20 years to marae, kōhanga or community centres."

Solar City Director of Public Affairs and Policy Eric Pyle says, "Here we've got this situation where we can just put solar panels on people's houses, on marae, on schools, pensioners housing and so on and produce cheap, clean, free electricity forever."

They've also committed to training rangatahi to carry out installation and maintenance of solar panels, something marae spokesperson Hawea Meihana says will have great benefits.

Meihana says, "Putting them on a platform to be qualified and be skilled to install these panels on the roofs is a chance for us to engage rangatahi meaningfully here at the marae."

Solar City is looking to extend the reach of the project to marae and communities right across the country.