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Sheep used in pilot project to control grass at P.E.I. solar plant

October 8, 2023 | By Caitlin Coombes

BONSHAW, P.E.I. – A few dozen seasonal woolly residents have turned out to be an efficient green option when it comes to keeping the grass trimmed at the Slemon Park solar microgrid project.

In July 2023, the P.E.I. Energy Corporation conducted a three-week solar grazing trial, using sheep, to test whether solar installations across the province would be well-served by solar grazing.

A herd of 30 sheep from Darryl Stoltz’s farm, Quality Sheep in Bonshaw, were brought in for a grass care experiment in maximizing green energy farmland.

Stoltz, who is also president of the P.E.I. Sheep Breeders’ Associations, was connected with the P.E.I. Energy Corporation green energy venture by the Department of Agriculture.


The Department of Agriculture told SaltWire staff in an email statement Sept. 29 that it considers the trial a success.

“Grazing sheep is a cost-saving measure allowing producers to be compensated for their efforts in managing vegetation, while also offering lower maintenance and reduced emissions when compared to traditional mowing and whipper-snipping,” said the email.

During a visit to Quality Sheep on Sept. 27, Stoltz told SaltWire staff that he was pleased with the outcome.

“I think solar project is an excellent way to harness solar energy but also to keep agricultural land in agricultural production, and sheep are the perfect animal for grazing under solar panels,” Stoltz said.

Solar grazing is the practice of keeping sheep on solar farms, allowing them to graze around the panels in the place of mechanical lawn maintenance.

“Anything sheep-related, we would be responsible for that. That’s just what we do, we take care of our sheep.”

During solar grazing, farmers such as Stoltz would be responsible for transferring the herds to different pastures and caring for the health of the flock.

An ideal choice for grazing around solar panels, sheep are not likely to scratch against the panel supports, chew through wires or jump on the panels. They are also an ideal size for reaching underneath the panels without damaging them.

Due to ongoing Fiona repairs, the trial sheep were not able to graze along the solar panel rows. However, a section of the park was fenced off incrementally for the sheep to graze, allowing the microgrid to compare the sheep’s grazing efficiency to the maintenance required for other areas of the property.

Spencer Long, the engineering project manager at the Slemon Park microgrid, told SaltWire staff he was delighted with the trial and hopes to see the sheep return in 2024.

“We’d likely have to put a bit of physical barricades for the wiring, but otherwise the sheep are likely to be a good fit,” Long told SaltWire staff on Sept. 26.

While the 30 sheep were successful in their small area of the park, Long estimated that if the the flock is able to return in 2024, the microgrid would benefit from a larger herd of 100 sheep to account for the larger space the entire solar park provides.

As a regenerative farm, Quality Sheep does not use chemical fertilizers or sprays, and the flocks are entirely grass-fed, living outside throughout the warmer months under the protection of both electric fencing and livestock guardian dogs.

Long told SaltWire staff the trial yielded important information for the hopeful return of the sheep in 2024, including bringing in the flock earlier and housing the sheep on the microgrid property for longer.

“It was just borderline too late, I think, for them to eat all of the grass, but getting them in earlier next year and then likely a fall cut will be our strategy moving forward,” Long said.

The Department of Agriculture told SaltWire it is extremely pleased with the result of the solar grazing initiative and will be looking for further solar grazing opportunities across the province.

“If we start earlier, we can stay on top of the grass, then it doesn’t go to head, and it’s greater nutritional value if we get to that type of grass sooner.”

Stoltz also said if Quality Sheep is invited back, short clovers could be seeded into the grass to increase the nutritional value of the park for the herd.
By Caitlin Coombes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, THE GUARDIAN


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