A solar farm in San Antonio, Texas is not being sheepish about its newest landscapers: a group of four-legged friends that are keeping the 45 sprawling acres perfectly manicured under the sweltering Texas sun.
The farm’s operator, OCI Solar Power, put around 90 Barbados-cross sheep out to pasture in April to graze and serve as an environmentally-friendly, cheap alternative to maintenance, the Texas Tribune reports. Though the practice is used elsewhere in the U.S., including California and South Carolina, sheep grazing is not common among Texas solar farms.
“It was good to see it was actually quite common” elsewhere, said Charlie Hemmeline, executive director of the recently formed Texas Solar Power Association. “The fact that you’ve got a solar plant there isn’t necessarily restrictive to other uses such as grazing.”
The 4.4-megawatt solar farm is part of a larger series of 400-megawatt plants that San Antonio’s municipal utility, CPS Energy, intends on adding to its system by 2016. Just one megawatt of solar energy can heat and cool up to 100 homes on a hot, Texas summer day, according to the Tribune, and in more mild conditions, can power even more houses.
OCI Solar’s experiment with sheep grazing has worked out well despite recent heavy rains. None of the sheep have chewed through cables or hopped up onto the solar panels, unlike goats, which are more prone to that type of behavior.
Not only are the solar panels good for soaking up the rays. In the blazing sun, they provide a shady respite for the sheep.
Officials contend sheep grazing not only boosts the local agricultural economy, but is also cheaper than hiring human landscapers, who have to steer large lawn equipment in sometimes difficult-to-reach areas.
The sheep aren’t the only animals living at the solar farm. The company has also employed two herding dogs to help stave off lingering coyotes and help protect the sheep.
OCI Solar intends to keep the current herd around for about 10 months before a Texas breeder will swap the sheep with a new crew. If all goes well, they might add the animals to keep its expansive 500-acre, 41-megawatt-plant in sheep shape.