“We did a study showing that if all the estimated 8,000 poultry houses in Mississippi installed solar arrays, that industry alone could offset 10 percent of the state’s electrical use from conventional generating plants.”

In Mississippi, 99 percent of all poultry houses are oriented east-west, which offers large expanses of optimum south-facing roof area on which solar panels could be installed. 

In a few areas, where there are trees or other obstacles to the sun, or in cases where the roof may not be structurally strong enough, the panels can be ground-mounted on post supports in order to get maximum sunlight exposure.

The system at the Pope farm cost $80,000 (outside the TVA territory, a system with equivalent production could cost more than twice that much); grants and rebates dropped his outlay to about $41,000. “When you figure depreciation and production into this equation, my payback on the system is 3.8 years,” Pope says.

Beyond the payback period, at today’s rates for the balance of the 25-year warranty period, the system would produce an additional return of $79,960.

None of the electricity generated by the solar panels is directly used in Pope’s poultry operation. Rather, it flows into the power grid and is purchased by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) under its Green Power Switch Generation Partners program, which was started in 2003 to provide incentives to users within its multi-state territory to adopt clean energy systems.

Under the current arrangement, Pope is paid a price about 12 cents per kWh above the rate he is charged for electricity used on his farm.

“The last bill I got, the utility paid me 23 cents per kWh for my solar electricity and I paid them about 10-3/4 cents for the electricity I purchased from them,” he says. “Right now, we’re between flocks and are using only a minimal amount of electricity on the farm, so all the power we’re generating is making money for us.”