Community Solar, O&M, Utility Scale

Is vegetation management a problem for your solar farm? Just add sheep

Community solar provider Nexamp kicked off a new solar grazing program recently with the deployment of approximately 150 sheep on its solar farm in Newfield, NY. The sheep, provided by a local sheep farmer, will be used to provide sustainable vegetation management at the site throughout the growing season. Solar grazing provides a variety of important benefits to the sheep farmer, the sheep, the community and the solar farm developer.

More sheep are being placed at the 30-acre Newfield site as the season progresses. Nexamp also is implementing solar grazing with more than 40 sheep already at its site in Seneca, NY and soon will be starting the program at its Upton, MA location. With dozens of projects across the Northeast, solar grazing is poised to play a significant role in Nexamp’s plan for site maintenance in the future.

 “Subscribers get involved with our community solar program for two reasons—they save money on their electricity costs and they support the growth of clean, renewable energy in their local community,” said Zaid Ashai, Nexamp CEO.

“Because sustainability is such a key part of our DNA as a community solar provider, the ability to further reduce carbon emissions with solar grazing is very appealing. 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.”

Upstate New York sheep farmers Lexie Hain and Lewis Fox of Agrivoltaic Solutions are providing sheep for the two Nexamp sites. More importantly, the two have teamed up to co-found the American Solar Grazing Association, a group that will offer valuable resources and guidance to sheep farmers while serving as a connection point for members and solar developers across the country.

“Sheep are very efficient eaters and are really well suited to this kind of application. They will eat almost anything that grows, maintaining an ideal vegetation height to prevent shading on solar panels,” said Hain in a press release.

“Existing perimeter fences at the solar farms protect them from predators, and the panels themselves provide shelter from rain, wind and direct sun on hot days. It’s a fantastic opportunity for sheep farmers to generate extra income in a mutually beneficial environment,” she added.

Solar grazing takes community solar to the next level by extending the benefits of the program beyond subscribers to farmers and their sheep.

“Putting a flock out on a solar farm means I can preserve my own pasture and stock hay for the winter months, lowering my overall costs at the same time that I am adding revenue from the solar developer,” stated Fox.

“Working with Nexamp has been a good experience for us—we are all learning and building a strong program that will scale nicely in the future. Agrivoltaics is making it easier to maximize land for both clean energy production and agriculture. It’s a win-win.”

Nexamp will continue to expand the solar grazing program throughout 2019, developing agreements with local farmers in other communities to meet vegetation management needs in a sustainable approach with sheep.

Vegetation management is a topic that is discussed at both POWERGEN International (Nov. 19-21, New Orleans) and DISTRIBUTECH International (January 28-30, 2020, San Antonio).