Government data show a year-round average of 5 peak solar hours daily, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s ranking of states lists Mississippi as having 10th highest solar power potential in the U.S. (Arkansas is 11th, Louisiana 12th, Missouri 14th, and Tennessee 16th). The rankings are based on the sun index, which calculates the amount of direct sunlight received in each state and accounts for latitude and cloud cover. California is indexed at 1.0. The sun index is calculated as the average number of hours of peak direct sunlight hours per year from 1960 to 1990.

“It’s commonplace to gripe about the cost of gasoline,” Hegman says, “yet a lot of those same people won’t even consider this new technology that could save them money while silently, reliably producing electricity and offering them a hedge against rising energy costs.

“I don’t know what oil prices are going to be in the years ahead — almost everyone expects they will go up. But scientists tell us the sun will be radiating energy for at least another 5 billion years. Why not capitalize on this abundant source of energy? Long after oil is gone, solar panels will be using the sun’s rays to generate clean electricity. Compared to the cost of a nuclear plant, and all the construction costs and environmental concerns they entail, solar power is a bargain.

“If you discount the billions of subsidies we’re still giving to the oil companies, the cost of solar is already almost on a parity with oil. And it’s going to continue to be cheaper as the cost of panels and related equipment go down.”

Poultry production is big business in Leake County and several surrounding counties; a Tyson poultry plant at nearby Carthage processes millions of birds weekly and has some 2,000 employees.

It’s an energy-intensive business, Hegman notes, with huge tunnel fans used to ventilate the houses during hot summers, and propane for heating during the winter, plus lighting requirements.

“Solar can really change the life of a poultry farmer,” he says. “We did a study showing that if all the  poultry houses in Mississippi installed solar arrays, that industry alone could offset 10 percent of the state’s electrical use from conventional generating plants.”

With their large roof surfaces and, in most cases, east-west siting, poultry houses are ideal for installation of enough solar panels to generate the electricity needed for cooling and lighting, and enough excess to offset the cost of propane for heating through rebates from the power company.