Spencer Pope is a poultryman who grows 800,000 broilers a year on his farm near Carthage, Miss., but for the past year he’s had another business — generating electricity from an array of 48 175-watt solar panels on the roof of one of his poultry houses.

 “I’ve averaged a $250 per month saving on my electric bill,” he told participants in the Mississippi portion of the American Solar Energy Society’s annual Down on the Farm National Solar Tour. “Electricity is a pretty sizable expense for a poultry operation, and this represents a nice cost saving.

He’s so pleased with the economics of the system that he’s planning to install another 180 solar panels, which will then give him 47 kilowatts total power output.

“That’s enough to cover the entire electricity requirements of my six poultry houses,” he says.

Thanks to a government grant through the Rural Energy for America program enacted in the 2008 farm bill and a 30 percent tax credit to encourage renewable energy, Pope shaved about 50 percent of the cost of purchasing and installing the system.

“With depreciation and the TVA power purchase agreement, I expect a four-year payback on the system,” he says. “There aren’t many opportunities like that in business today.”

Will and Carolyn Hegman, whose firm, Mississippi Solar, (www.mssolar.net), sponsored the state’s solar tour, say that while solar power generation is particularly suited to poultry operations — most houses have large expanses of south-facing roof area to mount the panels — there are many potential applications for businesses.

Poultry production is a major enterprise in Leake County and several surrounding counties; a Tyson poultry plant near Carthage processes some 2.5 million birds weekly and has 2,000-plus employees.

“Poultry farming is an energy-intensive business,” says Will. “Solar can really change the life of a poultry farmer.