Tonga’s first solar farm, the second to be built by Meridian Energy, was officially named in a dedication ceremony. The name, ‘Maama Mai’, chosen by His Majesty King Tupou VI, means ‘let there be light’. More than 260 delegates attended the celebration, including the Tongan King and Prime Minister, New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Murray McCully, and representatives from the project’s alliance partners − the Government of Tonga, Tonga Power, Meridian Energy and the New Zealand Aid Programme. The event marked the completion of the construction phase of the 1MW solar farm. The project, which was originally proposed by Meridian back in 2009, was made possible by a funding grant from the New Zealand Aid Programme and the collective solar expertise of Meridian and other New Zealand companies, including Reid Technology, Fletcher Construction and North Power.
Meridian’s Chief Executive Mark Binns said, “Today we’re celebrating the result of a successful collaborative alliance with the New Zealand and Tongan Governments and Tonga Power. The project has been very important to Meridian. It has proven our expertise as a solar developer in the Pacific, setting a strong foundation for future solar developments, for when the time is right to bring the technology closer to home in Australasia. Tonga can be proud to be at the forefront of solar generation in the Pacific and can look forward to a better renewable energy future.”
Tonga currently generates electricity from costly imported diesel fuel. As the country’s first renewable energy project, Maama Mai is a first important step towards the Tongan Government’s renewable energy targets. At various stages, the project provided employment for approximately 35 locals, who have developed skills that can be used to build further renewable energy facilities in the islands. Construction on the project started in November 2011 and finished on-time and under-budget. Once it goes live, which is expected in early August, the facility will generate approximately 1880 megawatt hours of electricity per annum, meeting approximately four percent of Tongatapu’s total electricity demand.
The solar farm is located on land adjacent to Tonga Power’s Popua Power Station, south east of the capital Nuku’alofa. As lead developer, Meridian provided development, engineering, construction and commissioning expertise to the project and, for the next five years, will provide asset management and maintenance advice to Tonga Power. Tonga Power will be responsible for operating and maintaining the facility. In 2017, full legal ownership of the solar farm transfers to Tonga Power.