Maintenance of vegetation on site can be accomplished using several options, including but not limited to the following: mowing, weed eaters, herbicides, and sheep. Reductions in fertilizer use on the site will slow growth of vegetation and weeds. Mowing allows the landowner to have the option of laying cut grass or vegetation on grounds of site to decompose and improve long-term soil fertility. In some cases, landowners have used grazing animals, normally sheep, to frequent the solar site grounds and control the vegetation and weeds, which also returns organic matter to the soil on site
Like most lawns and parks, many utility-scale solar facilities in N.C. use a combination of mowing and herbicides to maintain the vegetation. When using herbicides, applicators are advised to be mindful of label instructions and local conditions. Herbicide persistence is affected by the organic matter content and moisture level of the soil. The importance of complying with legal responsibilities in using the treatments cannot be stressed enough, especially for land located near surface water, land where the surface is near the water table, or where application might carry over to other neighboring lands..
Herbicide use at solar facilities is typically similar to that in agriculture, and the types of herbicides used are similar between the two uses. As such, the impact of herbicides used at solar facilities on neighboring land and the environment is likely to be no more than that of conventional agriculture. Herbicide use differs widely among different crops and farming techniques, so the change in herbicide appliance between agricultural and solar use will vary in individual cases, but in the aggregate, there is no reason to believe that solar facilities will result in more herbicide impacts on neighboring lands than do current agricultural uses. Herbicide use can be discontinued 1-2 years before decommissioning of a site, minimizing any residual impact on crop production at former solar sites.
A number of sites use sheep at low densities to maintain vegetation during the growing season, although the sheep do not fully replace the need for mowing and/or herbicide use. The sheep are leased from sheep farmers, and the demand for sheep at solar facilities has been beneficial for North Carolina’s sheep industry. The grazing of sheep at solar facilities incorporates local farmers into the management of the sites, engaging the local community with solar development. The growth of solar farms represents a huge opportunity for the North Carolina sheep industry, with thousands of acres that are fenced well for sheep, and allow North Carolina farmers to diversify into new agricultural products for which there is increasing demand.
- ^ North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. Health and Safety Impacts of Solar Photovoltaics. May 2017. Accessed June 2017. https://nccleantech.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/Health-and-Safety-Impacts-of-Solar-Photovoltaics-2017_white-paper.pdf
- ^ Ryan Nielsen, First Solar, personal communication, June 23, 2017.
- ^ Chelsea Kellner.Got Sheep? Want a Solar Farm?North Carolina State University College of Agricultural and Life Sciences News. September 2016. Accessed June 2017. https://cals.ncsu.edu/news/got-sheep-want-a-solar-farm/
- ^ Brock Phillips, Sun-Raised Farms, personal communication, June 21, 2017.