Sheep at solar array

A flock of sheep chews away the weeds that grow underneath one of Tucson Electric Power’s solar arrays instead of lawn mowers, spray or weed trimmers, demonstrating one way TEP supports eco-friendly practices.

“To make sure our large solar array gets plenty of sun, we can’t let the weeds grow too high. That’s where the sheep come in,” said Ericca Suarez, a Technical Specialist in Renewable Energy. “It really is more sustainable to use the sheep.”

Roughly 100 sheep at any given time dwell at the Red Horse array near Willcox where they eat tumbleweeds, grass and other weeds under the photovoltaic panels, which automatically tilt throughout the day to follow the sun.

The sheep are featured in TEP print advertisements and a television commercial, which has been airing since March, called “Down on the Solar Farm.”

Rancher Rusty Cocke manages the herd to keep the panels productive while preventing damage to the 1,200-acre site. A donkey and a dog accompany the sheep to keep away the coyotes.

The sheep have lived for about two years at Red Horse, a 51-megawatt solar array. A 30-megawatt wind facility sits on the mountain ridge next to the solar field.

Suarez said TEP is considering bringing in sheep to clear land at other solar arrays in the future. See a list of TEP’s solar and renewable energy sites and a map of their locations.

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