Oregon State professor Chad Higgins is the top expert on solar panels and their impact on sheep grazing. Acknowledged as the leading specialist in agrivoltaics, he’s lending his expertise to a massive $500 million solar farm project located near Glenrock, Wyoming.
Chad Higgins: The Go-To Guy for Sheep and Solar Insights
BrightNight LLC has big plans for a 500-megawatt solar farm near Glenrock, Wyoming, and they’re keen on including sheep grazing as part of it to keep local traditions alive. That’s why they’ve reached out to Chad Higgins, an Oregon State University Associate Professor, who is famous for his work in agri-solar setups.
Higgins has been on board since 2022 and is a pioneer in the field of agrivoltaics. His research dives deep into how solar panels interact with animals that graze – especially sheep.
Livestock Meets Clean Energy
Letting sheep munch grass under solar panels isn’t just a nice thought – it’s happening all over the place. Higgins even ran tests at Oregon State University’s Sheep Center with sheep feasting beneath solar arrays.
The American Solar Grazing Association expects that by 2023, over 50,000 acres of solar farms will be open dining rooms for sheep. Research says that sheep actually like chilling and eating under solar panels more than out in the wide-open fields. This shows that solar grazing not only gives the sheep a cozy spot but also makes it easier for them to eat their fill.
Not only that, but having sheep around means less work cutting grass or using weed killers under the panels. It’s a win-win: the land gets taken care of in a way that’s good for the planet and keeps things lively and diverse on solar farms.
Benefits of Solar Grazing
Solar grazing can be great for people who run solar power operations and those who raise sheep:
- It cuts down on the cost of keeping plant growth under control for solar operators.
- Sheep owners can make extra money by renting out their animals.
- It helps improve the quality of soil and leads to more plant and animal life on solar farms.
- Supports working together between green energy and farming that doesn’t harm the environment.
- Makes local residents more interested and gives them a better view of solar energy projects.
Wyoming’s Solar Farm Initiative
Wyoming is getting into solar power with BrightNight LLC’s huge $500 million project named the Dutchman. They plan to start building it in March 2025, as long as they get the go-ahead from authorities. The Dutchman will help Wyoming use more renewable energy.
Also, AES Corp. wants to put up a $230 million wind farm in Converse County. This shows Wyoming is becoming a key place for renewable energy. These big projects are creating jobs and giving a boost to the economies of small towns.
Challenges and Opportunities
Solar grazing has lots of potential for Wyoming’s future in energy, but there are some tough issues to figure out, like not having enough water and rules about using land. Since places like Wyoming are pretty dry, we need to be smart about how we use our water when we’re setting up new solar farms.
Laws are important for helping solar projects succeed while taking care of the environment and making sure people living nearby are doing okay too. It’s super important for governments, businesses, and locals to work together well to deal with these tricky parts and find a good mix of economic progress without hurting nature.
As everyone starts using cleaner energy, smart ideas like-
Solar grazing shows us how we can use land better and take care of the environment. If we keep studying and working together, we’ll probably see more solar farms with sheep around, which helps connect farming and clean energy.
When we combine farming with making solar energy, towns can get the advantages of both without harming the planet too much. Plus, they can handle climate change better. Starting with big projects, like the Wyoming $500 million one for solar power, and having pros like Chad Higgins lead the way is how we start making the future better.