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How one Memphis solar farm is paving the way for renewable energy in the Mid-South

We paid a visit to the Agricenter in East Memphis to find out how a relatively small solar panel farm is providing a lot of power.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tucked away on the south side of Walnut Grove Road in East Memphis is what very well could be the future of energy in the Memphis area - a solar farm. The farm sits on five acres and consists of around 4,000 individual panels. Each row of panels has a motor on it that turns them through the day, allowing them to point directly into the sun to provide the most power possible.

In fact, this solar farm produces enough power to provide electricity for the entire 1,000 acre Agricenter complex (with some left over).

RELATED: Four easy ways you can go green

That leftover energy goes right into the MLGW grid and provides over 100 Memphis-area homes with power every year.

When it was built it was the largest solar farm in the state of Tennessee, and nearly all of the materials are sourced from right here in the state.

Tim Roberts acts as an extension agent with Shelby County and the Director of Education for the Agricenter complex

Since we don't have enough windy days to support wind energy (and no suitable way to harness hydroelectric power), he believes solar is the future of renewable energy in the Memphis area.

"This is a viable option for us for renewable energy because we can offset so much coal as well as emissions from cars going up and down the road," Roberts said. "We can offset some of that because we're not burning anything. We're just using what mother nature has given us."

Memphis gets about 5 hours of sunlight a day on average, which is plenty to support more solar energy installations in the future (including homeowners choosing to install their own panels).

Reducing your carbon footprint

It's no secret that installing solar panels on your home just isn't in the budget for many homeowners, but Roberts says it is slowly becoming more affordable.

He explains that if you do choose to install your own solar panel array, you can expect to see a return on your investment in 10 to 15 years. With many home mortgages lasting at least 30 years, this could be something to consider for those who are looking to settle down long-term.

If you own solar panels and produce more energy than your home uses, you can actually sell what's leftover to your local power company. You can also expect to be able to write off over 20 percent of the cost of installation.

You don't have to shell out thousands of dollars to help the planet though. MLGW offers a program called Green Switch which allows you to purchase units of renewable energy with a small donation on your monthly bill.

With an extra charge of as little as $2 a month, you can ensure that your home is being powered, at least partly, by green energy sources.

For more information, call MLGW at (901) 528-4549 or email greenpowerswitch@mlgw.com.

You can also take extra steps around the house to reduce your carbon footprint, such as purchasing energy-efficient appliances, reducing drafts in windows and using recycled building materials.