Sheep and Solar?

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On Millard Hill Road in Newfield, New York lambs chomp on grass, clovers and other vegetation as they run through grassy areas on a farm.

However, it’s not the typical farm that people envision sheep roaming on. The lambs are wandering through a solar farm.

A practice called solar grazing is bringing benefits in the form of renewable energy as well as cutting down on environmental pollution.

At Newfield Community Solar Farm, residents can find a 7.5-megawatt solar farm covering 30 acres in which roughly 45 to 50 lambs huddle together into a herd and run underneath 23,000 panels.

“The good thing about sheep is we don’t need a person with a Weedwacker walking by to cut weeds,” said Keith Hevenor, communication manager for Nexamp. “The sheep won’t bother the wiring or metal and they get right underneath without the damage and risks of landscaping equipment.”

An ideal pairing

Sheep beat out other animals, such as goats, for the grazing position.

Goats tend to chew on anything and everything — wires, panels, steel, plastic, anything, etc., so goats are actually too high-risk in most cases for panels that are this low to the ground. Sheep will not do any damage.

Agrivoltaic Solutions leases the sheep to Nexamp as well as other businesses and organizations to carry out solar grazing throughout the growing season, until late October or early November.

Cornell University also is using sheep for solar grazing as part of Cornell’s Climate Action Plan.

The university is pursuing a goal of carbon neutrality for its Ithaca campus by 2035. To that end, the plan lays out a range of actions to avoid carbon-intensive activities, reduce carbon-intensity by increasing efficiency, replace high-carbon energy sources, and offset emissions that it can not eliminate.

“Solar grazing is great example of avoiding carbon-intensive traditional mowing, and through a grant from the Cornell Atkinson Center, our faculty and students have partnered with solar grazers to develop a business model and best practices that will support successful expansion of solar grazing throughout the solar industry,” said Sarah Zemanick, director of the Cornell University Campus Sustainability Office.

“They’ll eat pretty much everything on site and keep us from having any issues with vegetation growing up and obstructing solar panels’ production — just making sure we run into optimal production,” Hevenor said.

In addition to mentioning the alleviation of risk from landscaping equipment, Hevenor said his company also benefits because sheep are less expensive than landscaping service businesses. He also said sheep farmers benefit from an additional source of income.

It’s a win-win-win for all!

source:  Ithica Journal