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    Solar array gets warm welcome at Agricenter ceremony

    Jody Callahan - The Commercial Appeal -

    The sun was shining so brightly at the dedication of a new solar array at the Agricenter Wednesday that it temporarily muddled U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen.

    Cohen, speaking off the cuff, attributed the classic Beatles song, "Here Comes the Sun" to John Lennon. But it was George Harrison who wrote and sang it.

    That brain kink can be forgiven, though, since that same sunshine promises to generate 1 megawatt of energy through the array over the course of a year, according to officials Wednesday.

    "These panels behind us are already generating electricity," said Bill Gillon, chairman of the Agricenter board. "We all take a significant step forward to a more sustainable future."

    Silicon Ranch, the company owned by former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, is financing the $4.3 million facility and will own it.

    According to Gillon, Silicon Ranch is paying $21,000 annually to lease the land, which is on the south side of Walnut Grove, just west of Ducks Unlimited headquarters.

    According to calculations from Lightwave Solar, the Nashville-based company that installed the 4,160 solar panels, the array should generate enough energy to power 107 homes for a year.

    The panels, which were installed on six acres of land that had previously been sitting idle, were made at the Sharp company's Memphis manufacturing facility.

    Silicon Ranch president Matt Kisber said this array is the only one in Tennessee that can track the path of the sun, meaning the panels will move as the sun does to absorb the maximum amount of energy.

    Still, the new array won't be putting a huge dent into Memphis' energy needs anytime soon.

    According to Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division spokesman Richard Thompson, the utility's residential customers use an average of nearly 15,000 megawatts a day.

    And on Aug. 15, 2007, the utility set a record for maximum hourly demand with 3,533 megawatts as the temperatures soared to 106 degrees.

    Still, the excitement at the solar array Wednesday was obvious among the local officials and the more than 200 people gathered, most of whom were bused in from the main Agricenter facility.

    "We are really viewing," TVA representative Patty West said, "a field of dreams."

    -- Jody Callahan: (901) 529-6531

    Bigger solar farm

    The West Tennessee Solar Farm, called the largest in the state, will be officially opened at 3 p.m. today in Stanton. That facility is expected to generate 5 megawatts of energy annually, officials said.