[6 June/ Rural News Group]

Farmers are being supplied with easier access to solar energy which has the potential to save thousands on power bills each year. Westpac and Meridian Energy are among the companies wanting to help out. The Agricultural Fieldays event held at Mystery Creek this week will showcase the initiative. The Westpac Taranaki Agricultural Research Station in Hawera will pilot the first solar panels, aimed at providing an ongoing bundle of operation and cost savings. Dave Jones, the Westpac Bank Head of Agribusiness, said that part of Westpac’s 2013-2015 Sustainability Strategy initiative will see more support being given to clean-tech business ideas. From implementation of such energy schemes, average farms have been assessed at having a break-even period of around seven to eight years from which estimated farmer energy savings could be as much as $3000 per year. Meridian Energy General Manager of Retail Bill Highet said that the company’s customer base of those who are able to generate energy to be sent back to the grid has increased dramatically in recent times. He said that it would not be long before the number of internally generating customers exceeds 1000 with Australia at present having over one million.