Agricenter International, long known for turning sunshine into bales of cotton and bushels of grain, is now converting sunshine into electricity, thanks to a new 1 megawatt solar farm.

The official grand opening ceremony of Agricenter’s solar farm was held on the east side of the array just south of Walnut Grove Rd. in Memphis, Tenn., in mid-April.

The 998,400-watt photovoltaic system sits on five acres and will generate 1.6 gigawatt-hours annually, which is enough energy to power 107 homes for one year. Over 25 years, the solar farm will offset 38,350 tons of carbon dioxide, 100 tons of nitrous oxide and 200 tons of sulfur dioxide. This is the equivalent of taking 5,000 automobiles off the road or planting 7,500 acres of trees.

During dedication ceremonies, Bill Gillon, Agricenter chairman and  president and chief executive officer of the Memphis-based Cotton Board said, “This significant solar farm, perched here in the middle of Agricenter and Shelby Farms, is a testament to our commitment to move forward.  This solar farm will not solve America’s energy needs, but this farm and others like it, are undoubtedly part of a long-term, more sustainable future.”

Agricenter’s solar farm is the first in the state to include a solar tracking system. The system, from Array Technologies, allows the solar modules to track the movement of the sun to increase solar electricity production by up to 20 percent. The 4,160, Sharp solar modules were made in Memphis.

The $4.3 million project was engineered, designed and installed by LightWave Solar, financed by Silicon Ranch and integrated into the power grid by Memphis Light Gas and Water and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Silicon Ranch, which is owned by former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, is paying to construct the array and will own it. The company plans to sell power to MLGW. For each kilowatt of electricity produced, it will receive a TVA subsidy of 12 cents above market rate.

In 10 years, Agricenter will be given an option to purchase the array.

“It gives us 10 years to look at what it's doing,” said Agricenter President John Charles Wilson. “If  it’s making money like it’s planned to do, it’ll be an easy decision to make.”

The solar farm will be a vital part of Agricenter’s education mission, according to Wilson. Visitors can tour the solar farm, and electronic displays in the Agricenter lobby will display how much power is being generated.