“You might enter a site, and say ‘oh my gosh, this is really overrun with goldrenrod,'” said Arlo Christofaro-Hark of Cannon Valley Graziers. “The goal [would be] to totally supress the goldenrod and get some of the other pollinator plants to grow up.”
Christofaro-Hark brings these sheep to solar fields with the goal of managing the natural landscape.
There is a natural benefit to putting solar arrays over grass, instead of gravel or concrete. It allows the panels to create more energy.
“It turns out that if you create a thick, deep-rooted ground cover you are actually cooling the solar panels and they put out more electricity,” said Rob Davis, communications lead at Connexus Energy.
But, that same ground cover needs to be managed. That’s where the sheep might come in. This time, it was more of a trial run, looking at the potential of sheep managing the vegetation across all the solar sites owned by Connexus.
“We have 20 megawatts which is roughly 120 to 150 acres of projects just like this one; and so we are thinking more and more about whether we need to send a mower out, or if we can do something else,” said Davis.
That something else could be as simple as an annual grazing.
“These sheep arereally helping us build a relationship with a solar grazier to help us understand where and how we should use these kinds of practices on our other projects,” said Davis.
Most of the Connexus solar arrays also have bee hives on site. When the sheep aren’t here, it’s a place that bees can pollenate the wildflowers and native plants in the area.
“Sheep and pollenators are not incompatible. The sheep will mow down the vegetation, but also sprinkle a little fertilizer throughout the site,” said Davis. “You can combine benefits for pollenators, as well as sheep, as really stack the functions of agriculture and conservation, while generating clean energy.”