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They're fluffy. They're hungry. They work for Tampa Electric

The utility is renting several flocks of sheep to manage vegetation growth around its solar arrays.

Tampa Electric Co.'s newest hires are hungry for opportunity, uniquely qualified and work well in groups. They're sheep. Literal sheep. The utility is renting several flocks to manage vegetation growth around its solar arrays.

"No, we're not trying to pull the wool over your eyes," Tampa Electric said in a release. "Grazing sheep provide a significant cost savings over traditional mechanical lawn mowers, and they are better for the environment."

The sheep are a breed called Katahdin, which were domesticated and developed in Maine. That's where their namesake, Mt. Katahdin, is located. They are better suited for warmer weather, Tampa Electric said, because they have hair instead of wool.

Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs declined to provide a dollar figure for how much the sheep cost, but said they are the quarter of the cost of traditional mowing. Currently, she said, Tampa Electric's plan is to rent the sheep indefinitely.

Fencing will keep the four-legged workers safe from predators, and a team of experts checks their health multiple times per week.

"The sheep have adequate food, water, shade and shelter," the utility said in the release.

And because there are so many, they don't have individual names, Jacobs said.

Many of the areas the sheep are grazing in are part of Tampa Electric's move to build 600 megawatts of solar by 2021, half of which was completed as of January. When finished, solar energy will make up about 7 percent of the utility's energy generation.

Tampa Electric isn't the first to use livestock for vegetation management. Known as "targeted grazing," the practice is especially useful when targeting specific weeds, and has less ecological impact than pesticides, according to a handbook on it from the University of Idaho.

"Targeted livestock grazing is a readily available and under-exploited tool that is fast proving effective for vegetation management in many settings," the handbook said

The idea was even featured on an episode of Shark Tank when an entrepreneur team pitched its "Rent a Goat" idea for large lawn management.

Want to see the sheep for yourself? The "TECO Lamb Cam" on the utility's Facebook page shows a live view of the grazers, and will also feature newborn lambs born at the Big Bend Power Station.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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