Business Rural Spring 2021

| 3 RURAL PEOPLE » Forest Lodge Orchard Harvesting the potential of renewable energy Karen Phelps F orest Lodge Orchard has taken out the 2021 Sustainable Energy Association of New Zealand (SEANZ) award for best grid connected imple- mentation. The orchard’s renewable electric system was judged the best in New Zealand for its ability to meet all the needs of the extensive horticulture op- eration, support the national grid and make Forest Lodge Orchard an additional revenue stream. And director of Forest Lodge Orchard Mike Casey sees potential for other farmers to also enjoy cheaper operating costs, make additional income and im- prove their environmental footprint through the use of renewable energy. Mike and wife Rebecca returned from Australia in 2019 after selling a start-up tech company. They purchased a 9ha orchard at Mt Pisa, on the outskirts of Wanaka and interest in the potential of renewable energy to help solve the issue of climate change saw them look for ways to implement this on their land. Identifying that their biggest use of power in the orchard was irrigation they sought to replace the diesel system with one using electricity. Assistance from system architects Craig Browne and Regan Heal from Infinite Energy (who were named joint winners of the award), Jase Lee from Duncan Sangster Electrical and Ben Donaldson from Irrigation Services saw them build an orchard where the irrigation system, frost fighting system and all equipment can run without any fossil fuels. Forest lodge is also on solar energy, creating its own free power to bring its average power price down. Additional power is stored in batteries then used as required on their orchard or sold back to the grid. How they have done this is innovative. Mike wrote a software programme, which enables them to request spot price from the Cromwell GXP every minute from the Electricity Authority’s API then purchase power when prices are low and sell it back to the grid when prices peak. Although rev- enue from this is small at the moment it does help to offset the capital cost of batteries and power consumption. “There is the option to generate more revenue in the future as we expand our connection size, battery and solar arrays,” says Mike. New Zealand’s first electric frost fighting fans were installed in the orchard last October. A demonstration grant was obtained from the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (EECA) to help implement the technology and provide informa- tion, which may be useful to other New Zealand businesses. The Caseys are now in the process of purchasing an electric tractor, another first for New Zealand and also partly EECA funded through the same grant, to ensure the property is 100% electric with no reliance on fossil fuels. The electric tractor, manufactured by Monarch Tractors of California, will come with two battery packs so that it can be charged using the power of the sun. The Caseys are also hoping to develop a col- laborative working relationship with local electricity supplier Aurora to help ease periods of congestion, when many people and businesses want to use power, but the lines are not big enough to transport all that power to everyone, which can lead to power shortages, low voltage or, in extreme cases, load shedding. “We have designed a system using a battery array that ensures we pull as little power as possible from the grid during times of conges- tion, and therefore don’t add to the load burden,” explains Mike. “If we have spare power in our batteries, which we are not forecast to require, we also export power back to the grid to ensure our neighbours have enough power when they need it.” Although they started with a blank canvas, Mike is certain other farming operations could experi- ence the same benefits. He says that despite the fact that initial outlay is more expensive the pay- back and subsequent cost savings occur quickly (he estimates a pay-back of 5-8 years for his investment) making it a no-brainer. For example, he worked out the diesel costs for a tractor were around $8400 per year based on 1000 hours of use at $1.40 per litre but it would only cost $1000 at 15c per kWh in electricity to run an electric tractor with the system they have set up in their orchard. Forest Lodge plans to lower this cost even further by timing charging to maximise solar electricity production and when the spot price of power is low. Mike says any farmer could take advantage of renewable energy as part of their farming opera- tion. He says the fact that banks, such as BNZ, even offer sustainably linked loan products to those borrowing to make their operations more sustain- able sweetens the deal meaning farmers could also benefit from lower borrowing costs while making their business more competitive. “Farmers have space for solar panels on land that is not necessarily good for grazing. It’s a way they could use renewable energy on their own farms to keep costs down and control costs and also use it as a way to make an extra income stream by selling additional electricity generated back to the national grid helping to power New Zealand.” WINNERS OFTHE SUSTAINABLE ENERGYASSOCIATIONOF NZ “BESTGRID CONNECTED IMPLEMENTATION” (2021) “BESTSMALLBUSINESS” (2019) SEANZ 4 Chardonnay St, Cromwell | 027 245 6472 | 03 445 1139 Specialising in ... • Electrical design & installations • Industrial Process & control • Electric motor controls installation & repairs • Electronic Innovations Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, Mike Casey, Rachel Brooking MP and Euan White. Forest Lodge Orchard won the 2021 Sustainable Energy Association of New Zealand (SEANZ) award for best grid connected implementation. Lending criteria, terms and fees apply. Bankof backing Forest LodgeOrchard Creating sustainability for the long haul Managing your agribusiness’ financial and environmental sustainability can be tough. So it’s good to know there’s a bank that can help. Not just with practical support and information, but with capital solutions too. Speak to one of our local agribusiness specialists today. Visit