Minnesota research finds sheep grazing at solar sites actually improves soil quality

Research conducted in Minnesota over the past two years points to many beneficial aspects of sheep grazing in ground-based solar projects. What is believed to be the largest herd of solar sheep in the United States operates out of the Grazing provision MNL and has grazed Enel’s 150 MW Aurora project since 2017. Soil samples were first taken from six of the projects in 2020 and again in 2021, with the preliminary results recently presented.

Credit: MNL

Research partners MNL, Temple University, Enel and NREL have collected data from the Aurora project in the past highlighting potential benefits in soil health, water quality, stormwater management and the creation of pollinator habitats. Adding the sheep research to understand the issue of improving soil carbon is the latest effort to provide science-based data on the side-benefits of solar projects.

Sujith Ravi, an associate professor at Temple University, explained the preliminary results: “Preliminary results indicate that implementing managed sheep grazing significantly increased soil carbon storage and other nutrients important for crop production.” The results will have to be confirmed in the coming years by a continuous analysis of the soil properties.

Along with creating pollinator habitats, sheep grazing may be the most effective agricultural activity to relate to the acres’ original use in solar energy.

Credit: MNL

“More solar energy means more opportunities for new farmers to get started in the industry,” said Audrey Lomax, grazing manager at MNL. “We’re consulting with solar projects across the Midwest and the concept of sheep grazing on solar projects opens the door for new herders who may not have easy access to pasture to get started.”

With the new interest in soil carbon credits across the country, solar projects may also have another crop to harvest under the solar modules. Early estimates show, and long-term studies can confirm, that an acre of farmland being restored and on which native plants are installed can produce one tonne of sequestered carbon per year, accumulating 12 to 15 years before saturation is reached. Using sheep as a vegetation maintenance tool can reduce the overall carbon footprint of energy project maintenance, maintain ties with the local farming community, improve soil health, and improve soil carbon sequestration.

The research report can be found here: https://www.essoar.org/doi/abs/10.1002/essoar.10510141.1

News item from MNL

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