By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new idea is blending energy and agriculture to power some of our neighbor’s homes.

Nokomis Energy has dozens of renewable energy projects across the Twin Cities that serve Xcel Energy customers. But it’s piloting a new project that blends solar energy and sheep on Minnesota land.

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Nestled in this quiet patch that used to be low-yield farmland in Waseca, there’s a clash of old and new. Arlo Hark’s flock of sheep is hard at work in the new solar garden. They’re grazing — essentially mowing the lawn and churning the land — to help restore a native prairie habitat underneath the panels.

“Sheep have their own particular kind of skill set,” said Hark, owner and operator of Cannon Valley Graziers.

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(credit: CBS)

It’s part of a growing trend to find a second purpose for land beneath renewables, according to Julian White, a partner at Nokomis Energy.

“Minnesota’s really been a leader in saying, ‘Well, can’t we use that land for something more than just growing grass?’ And so we think of the land as something that we now have to care for. We’ve gotta be a good neighbor to that farmer, that community,” White said. “In a lot of ways it’s kind of like hiring a landscaper. It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m not hiring a mower, I’m hiring the sheep guy.’ It’s not like people are running around with huge flocks of sheep today, but they’re building them. It’s really entrepreneurial.”

Call it a modern style of agriculture, expanding technologies of the future while restoring landscapes of the past

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Hark’s sheep spent three weeks at the Waseca farm. He moves them from site to site with a livestock trailer.

Erin Hassanzadeh