Hundreds of sheep to help maintain Strathmore Solar installation in Alberta

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Construction of the Strathmore Solar installation in Alberta was completed on schedule with commercial operations announced this week. And as soon as grazing season begins, sheep will arrive on site.  Eventually there could be 400 to 600 sheep from the Whispering Cedars Ranch who will be tasked with sustainably managing the land by keeping the grass cut.

“Solar has been historically looked at as lost land, but for us it is an opportunity as first-generation farmers to access this land to produce food and fiber, while also supporting renewable energy.’” – Janna and Ryan Greir, Whispering Cedars Ranch

Grazing sheep at solar installations has been found to have benefits over and above keeping the grass cut. In a Temple University study, researchers found that managed sheep grazing on an acre of recovering agricultural soil with native plants installed may sequester one ton of carbon per year, which may accumulate for 12 to 15 years before reaching saturation.

When the Greirs were asked if they have had experience grazing sheep among solar panels, Janna said that this is a first for them. “We have fellow shepherds who do this in Ontario who have been mentors for us. We have been practicing this on our 100 acre ranch for the past 4 years using a grid system and rotational grazing,” Janna said. “The only difference between home and the solar site are the solar panels, and we can manipulate both the sheep and the electric fencing to provide vegetation management. “

Sheep-plus-solar is also a first for Capital Power. While it would seem that it might be difficult to keep sheep to a maintenance schedule, Capital Power has a plan. The sheep will be kept in 1-5 acre paddocks via electric fencing, and will move throughout the site through a series of mapped out paddocks via adaptive multi-paddock grazing (a form of rotational grazing). This will ensure adequate grazing, trampling, and management of the grass. Each year will be different, but a grazing plan (including paddock size, number of animals, etc.) will allow for adequate maintenance of the site.

The installation in Alberta, owned by Capital Power, is located on 320 acres of leased land owned by the Town of Strathmore, and it consists of 109,174 LONGi bifacial solar panels mounted on a DuraTrack HZ v3 horizontal single-axes tracking system. Capital Power is a wholesale power producer headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta. This is the company’s first solar facility in Canada.

“As we work to power a sustainable future for people and planet, this project represents another step on our pathway to net carbon neutrality by 2050 and we’re excited to partner with TELUS to support their decarbonization goals too,”  said said Brian Vaasjo, President and CEO for Capital Power.

The offtaker is Telus Corporation, a communications and information technology company. having signed a 25-year power purchase agreement for all the energy and renewable energy credits generated by the facility. This is Telus Corporation’s fourth PPA in Alberta, moving the company one step closer to its goals 100% of its electricity procured from renewable or low-emitting sources by 2025 and of 100% net carbon neutrality in its operations by 2035.

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