Opponents of solar power projects in Western New York have often contended that the projects take needed agricultural land out of production.
But recently, solar proponents have come up with an answer to that objection: tending sheep, chickens and other animals amid the solar panels.
New solar projects in Amherst and Lockport will feature sheep as living, breathing lawn mowers.
"It’s fast becoming an industry-preferred method of vegetation control on solar sites, but still, less than 1% of the ground-mounted solar in our country is being maintained that way," said Caleb Scott, owner of Ithaca-based United Agrivoltaics, a company that supplies sheep to solar developers.
"Our sole purpose is to help small farmers gain access to solar," Scott said. "I think what we’re doing here will eventually become the industry norm.”
His company has a contract with Renewable Properties, the San Francisco company that won approval Tuesday for a 46-acre solar project in the Town of Lockport.
The purpose of the sheep is to eat the grass that grows between the rows of solar panels.
“We can come in at or right around the same cost as mowing, but we provide a much better service," Scott said.
"You can really do a good job getting around all of the units, and it looks better long-term. It’s more of a prairie look than mowing it down once or twice a year with a brush hog, but it’s great for the environment," said Scott.
It also protects ground-nesting birds who otherwise would be mowed down.
Sheep eat around their nests, said Scott, whose company has contracts with nine solar farms in New York State. He anticipates five or six more, including the Lockport project, to be added to its portfolio in the next year.
Last month, Catalyze of Boulder, Colo., started site development work for a 5-megawatt solar project on Schoelles Road in Amherst.