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member spotlight

We love our members! This month SEBANE would like to highlight the recent success of member company Nexamp and its work with local farmers in Newfield, New York on the deployment of sheep herds on solar farms.  

Photo Credit :    Nexamp

Photo Credit : Nexamp

By Mac Crispino

August 7, 2019

“Solar Sheep” have become famous in a recent wave of social media surrounding the work that local New York farmers and Nexamp have been able to accomplish. The deployment of sheep herds on solar farms is something of a new phenomenon in this area, and we are proud to say that SEBANE member companies Nexamp, BlueWave, and others are leading the charge on multiple projects in the Northeast.

The solar and agriculture movement is gaining momentum in the northeast region of the United States, providing a source of positivity and excitement for the solar industry in New England. The dual-use approach to using livestock on solar fields has brought together two industries that are on the forefront of human well-being and environmental stewardship. Keith Hevenor, Communication Manager at Nexamp, stated in an interview with SEBANE, “There is no reason why clean energy production and agricultural programs have to be mutually exclusive. Dual land use is a responsible approach to making the most of our resources, and solar grazing enables both the solar company and the sheep farmer to simultaneously benefit from the land.”

It all began in Newfield, New York, in September of 2018 where a relationship was formed between farmer and installer. Lexie Hain, one of the founders and acting executive director of the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA), was introduced to Nexamp representatives at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of a new solar farm. The ASGA was founded in 2018 to help facilitate the information exchange between farmers and solar companies, and Hain comes from a background of sustainable management and years of experience in the agricultural world. She knew that the time was right for the state of New York and its farmers to be taking advantage of the partnership between solar installers and farmers.

Photo Credit :    Nexamp

Photo Credit : Nexamp

“Now there is a way we can make the farmers come out on top, I could see it was working around me and in other areas of the country, so we decided to put it into action and make it work” said Hain, who is a lead “solar grazier” for the ASGA, and encourages sheep grazing on solar farms because it is a major benefit for farmers not only financially, but agriculturally. The deployment of sheep for full seasons at a time provides immense benefits for farmers and their sheep. “Sheep actually eat more and are happier,” Hain said, due to the shade that the solar panels provide them on-site, all coming without extra infrastructure needed to be installed. The time the sheep spend off the farm help farmers to regenerate their land to have enough feed for their animals in the winter as well. Hain’s sheep have grazed a total of 120 acres this year, and that number will most likely increase by 40 acres each year.

Photo Credit :    Nexamp

Photo Credit : Nexamp

Sheep bring an important element to the farm with their ability to provide sustainable and natural vegetation management, eliminating the use for the burning of fossil fuels on-site. “Nexamp is committed to sustainability in everything we do, so the opportunity to utilize a natural process for vegetation management fits perfectly with our mission. With the solar grazing program, we can eliminate traditional fossil-fuel-based processes such as mowing. This ensures an even more environmentally friendly site for generating clean energy,” said Hevenor. This reduction in the burning of greenhouse gases is a major plus in the eyes of each industry’s leaders.

The future of the solar and agriculture movement is only looking brighter. Cornell University, who has been a staple in much of the front-line research involving sustainable agriculture, has deployed multiple studies regarding the positive environmental impacts of sheep on solar farms. The results of recent 2018 solar grazing research, funded by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University, shows that solar sites with sheep deployed on them require up to 2 ½ times less labor for vegetation management.

Solar farms also saw financial saving per acre per year. Other information is currently being gathered on behalf of the more specific environmental impacts this practice could allude to, like carbon sequestration and multiple layered soil benefits. “I get goosebumps thinking about this next step,” said Hain of the ASGA. “The sky is truly the limit.” Solar companies are taking notice of some of the positive results that solar and agriculture have already shown, and have begun to participate in the true win-win situation the industry has on its hands.

“By identifying new clean energy opportunities and partnering with farmers, we can maintain the livelihood of these people, plan for the future, and enable generations to farm land, while allowing states to meet clean energy and agriculture goals.” said Mark Sylvia, Chief of Staff at BlueWave Solar and President of SEBANE. BlueWave is looking into creating these relationships in the future as well as deploying sheep on-site.

Nexamp is currently aiming to create another solar grazing site in Upton, MA where possibly two dozen sheep will be deployed. “Solar grazing is a win for the community, a win for sheep farmers, and a win for solar developers, said Hevenor. “The community enjoys a sustainable presence that is maximizing the land, sheep farmers gain an extra source of income while grazing their animals in a safe environment with a healthy food source, and solar developers get well maintained sites with very little effort. Nexamp is an early leader in solar grazing and is looking to expand the program across its portfolio of solar farms.” SEBANE is proud to represent companies that are doing such great work, and we look forward to more companies joining this movement.

Demand for this is being driven on both sides. Solar installers and farmers have a unique opportunity to rapidly increase the use of this practice. In the coming months there will be opportunities for people to learn more about Solar and Agriculture including a workshop hosted by Solar Power International on September 26th in Salt Lake City titled, “Solar + Sheep = The New Power Couple.” Know of any other trends or innovative news related to solar industry and would like to share your experience?

Reach out to us at operations@sebane.org and connect.

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