Solar systems can cut costs for other agricultural operations — boat houses, horse barns, and a wide variety of applications, Hegman says. In addition to potential savings on energy costs, the systems help reduce environmentally harmful carbon emissions.

While the cost of solar panels has dropped sharply — from about $9 per watt in 2008 to around $3.28 today — he says in Mississippi it’s a technology that’s still little understood, which has been a roadblock to wider adoption.

Several years ago, the Tennessee Valley Authority — the dominant electricity provider over much of the Appalachian region, which includes much of east Mississippi — initiated a solar incentives program, Generation Partners, to encourage installation of systems throughout its territory. That was followed by its Green Power Switch program, in which participants could sell power from their solar installations to TVA at a favorable rate that would not only offset their normal power usage, but would result in a payment for any excess electricity generated.

A federal tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of the installed system was an additional incentive (the credit will continue through 2016).

In 2012, an estimated 12,000 homes, farms, and businesses in the TVA area were participating in the Green Power Switch program.

It was unfortunately, Hegman says, a case of a program being too successful, and TVA imposed a cap on participation, as well as reducing the rate it would pay for purchasing solar-generated electricity.

In 2013, according to news reports, TVA’s yearly capacity for the capped program was subscribed within one minute of its opening on Aug. 1.

Citing continued “strong interest,” TVA announced that for 2014 it would continue to cap the program, and would only take enrollment requests during a one-month period, Jan. 15-Feb. 17. If requests exceeded the cap, a “random selection process” (lottery) would be used to select those allowed to complete the full application process.

TVA was not the only utility to drastically cut back on solar incentives; nationally, power companies were complaining about losing revenue, and green power programs were slashed or eliminated, casting a pall on an industry that was beginning to grow during a period of rising energy prices.

The cutbacks were a blow to the industry, which had an estimated 100,000 employees nationwide.

Further exacerbating the situation were highly publicized bankruptcies of the California-based solar company Solyndra, which had received $535 million in federal loans, and Colorado-based Abound Solar, with $400 million in federal loans.