MENDON - Dan Finnegan crouched down and placed a hand on a sheep’s head.
Lying on the grass, the black-headed Suffolk named “Juno” was basking in the sun Thursday morning as passers-by stopped to pet and take pictures with him.
“This guy loves the attention,” Finnegan said before stroking the 6-month-old lamb’s beige wool.
Juno wasn’t in a petting zoo. He was gnawing on grass at a community solar farm in Mendon - he and 14 of his brethren had been tasked with grazing on the land of a solar panel lot owned by Ameresco Inc., a Framingham energy services company.
The company partnered with BlueWave Solar, a Boston company that developed the solar panels, to pilot the sheep-grazing project.
Finnegan and his company, Solar Shepherd, LLC, of Mansfield, were brought on by the companies to provide and maintain the sheep.
The sheep are grazing near a panel array at Varney Farm on 128 Providence St. This is the first and only sheep-grazing site the companies have, but officials at both companies said they plan to expand.
As opposed to hiring workers who use gas-powered lawnmowers, the companies say they have plans to use the sheep for much of their grass-cutting needs to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious.
“This is one small step for Ameresco and BlueWave, and one giant leap for sheep"
John DeVillars BlueWave Co-founder & Chairman
Ameresco Vice President Paul Makris said sheep-grazing costs are almost identical to they’d pay for human landscapers.
“This is one small step for Ameresco and BlueWave, and one giant leap for sheep,” BlueWave Chairman John Devillars said.
It’s an innovative concept that is making its way around the country, explained Finnegan, who opened Solar Shepherd about a year ago. He said the benefits are numerous.
From a safety perspective, Finnegan said sheep are a much lower risk because the lack of machinery means it is far less likely for people to get hurt or for solar panels to be damaged.
The sheep’s positive environmental impact also extends further than just helping the companies cut down on their use of greenhouse gases, Finnegan added. They also play a role in increasing the area’s biodiversity and help the microbial health of the soil.
The sheep even help the solar panels be more efficient because their grazing “makes the root systems go deeper and the vegetation more lush,” Finnegan said. That in turn allows the soil to hold more water, he said. When the evaporation process happens during the day, it helps cool the panels, which allow them to produce more electricity.
“These are things you can’t really accomplish with a lawnmower,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the MetroWest Daily News on Aug. 16, 2019