OBERLIN, Ohio (WJW) – Engineers at Oberlin College found an unusual solution to a problem that has plagued one of the school’s green energy projects.
A herd of sheep and two extraordinary dogs are now helping maintain the college’s solar panel field, which is a vital component in Oberlin’s strategy to replace fossil fuels on campus.
“To use fossil fuels to maintain the array is kind of counterproductive to that, so this is a solution that allows us to maintain the solar array without fossil fuels,” said Oberlin College Energy Engineer Joel Baetens.
When maintenance crews tried to cut the high grass on the solar farm with traditional mowers, they encountered a number of challenges.
“There’s ruts through here and water, so there will be mosquitoes, there’s ticks. They would mow up and down the rows, but then have to weed-whack around each one of the legs, and there are hundreds of them,” said Baetens.
A green solution to the problem was offered by an Ohio company, New Slate Land Management.
The owners promote the ancient method of grazing sheep to maintain fields around modern sources of energy.
“We’re able to use ruminants on the grass in order to reduce the mowing, so coming out here and running zero turn mowers because of all the posts and cross posts in the way, it can’t really be efficiently done. You’re burning a lot of carbon dioxide, you’re burning a lot of gas in order to get that done, so the sheep are able to reduce that,” said Katie Carothers.
The company’s two Border Collies, Storm and Dougal, play a key role in herding the sheep so that the entire field is mowed the natural way.
“I wanted to subdivide this field and the sheep were all the way in the back corner there, so we’ll use the dogs to get them up into this quadrant,” said Carothers.
The college considered using goats for the grazing project, but they were told by researchers at Ohio State that the goats would not only eat the grass, they would also damage the solar panels.
Supporters of the project say solar grazing is providing an environmental lesson for Oberlin students, on how even a simple idea can improve the world around them.