Imagine a United States four years ago — there was a different president and there weren’t tariffs on solar panels. An oasis really, except for one thing — “solar sheep” didn’t really exist yet. If 2020 has one positive trend, it’s all the developers and project owners hiring grazing animals to cut vegetative maintenance costs and further lower carbon footprints. If we can only choose between no tariffs or more solar sheep, give us what we want! More sheep!
KDC Solar told Solar Power World back in 2016 that it was having difficulty finding anyone interested in providing sheep for its projects in New Jersey. But luckily one local shepherd reached out, and KDC saw the results immediately. Compared to paying $25,000 a year to mow a 26-acre solar site, a few dozen sheep only cost KDC $10,000. Over the life of a PPA, those savings add up, and more national developers took notice.
Coupled with the desire for more pollinator-friendly plants on projects, many projects owners are deploying holistic land use practices that include grazing animals, with the most popular four-legged eating machines being sheep. Sheep are excellent at vegetation maintenance because they eat almost anything that grows and they’re short enough to fit under panels and take advantage of their shade and shelter from the elements.
One of the first companies to set off the summer of 2019 as the season for solar sheep employment was community solar provider Nexamp. The company released 150 sheep on a 30-acre, 7.5-MW project in New York, and, following the project’s success, employed sheep on additional projects across the Northeast.
“We no longer have gas-powered equipment running on the site, and we are able to provide a steady stream of income to the sheep farmers while the sheep enjoy a safe, healthy environment in which to graze,” said Zaid Ashai, Nexamp CEO, in a press release.
C2 Energy also decided last year to scale up its solar sheep program after a successful pilot program on a 7-MW project in Florida. Now with sheep working on 10 projects totaling over 79 MW and 300 acres, C2 is testing more wildflower plantings to further limit mowing and improve pollinator habitats.
National developer Silicon Ranch last year launched third-party product Regenerative Energy that “combines clean electricity generation with carbon sequestration, ecosystem restoration and rural economic revitalization.” Silicon Ranch partnered with regenerative ranchers and local farmers to bring more grazing animals and diverse native plants to some of its operating solar farms, and the company plans to use its new standards on all new builds in the future.
Silicon Ranch hopes its Regenerative Energy verification methodology and third-party certification protocol will be adopted by other developers and project owners to give us what we want — fewer gas-guzzling mowers and more sheep!