Kansas school sees progress on solar power initiative

Kansas school sees progress on solar power initiative

(Kan.) A new solar panel system is helping one Kansas high school save money, reduce carbon emissions, and promote climate science education in the classroom.

Stan Bergkamp, physics and chemistry teacher at Maize High School–located about 15 miles northwest of Wichita–became interested in the idea of installing a solar power system capable of producing enough energy to power 80 percent of the Maize Career Academy.

He pitched the idea to the school board in 2017 and earlier this month, the high school went live with a 720 solar panel, 240 kilowatt system, making it one of the largest privately-owned systems in Kansas.

Bergkamp, who has raised more than $160,000 of the $400,000 needed to fully fund the project, said the threat of climate change was a key motivator in his decision to pursue the project.

“I couldn’t talk to my chemistry classes about the acidification of the oceans or the bleaching of the coral reefs and personally not do something,” Bergkamp said in an email to local reporters. “I saw this as an opportunity to give back to my students, to their children, and the kids that I will never see—because I know too much science to not do something.”

A 2017 report compiled on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy by the Solar Foundation–a D.C.-based advocacy organization that promotes solar energy–found that between 2008 and 2014, more than 3,000 schools were fitted with solar panels. Researchers estimated that number of schools had doubled since then.

In 2016, a group of 21 school districts across a handful of states including California, Florida, Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia, Missouri and Michigan created a coalition to promote environmental education and influence state policies that would lead to more energy efficient, sustainable school facilities.

Bergkamp has calculated that once the system is fully paid for, it will save the school $3,200 a month, and more than $30,000 a year, as well as reduce annual carbon emissions by 240 tons.

The project is financed through a partnership with ICM Inc., an ethanol plant located a short distance from the high school, which purchased the $400,000 system, and is leasing it to Maize High School for 6 years, with an agreement that the school pay $2,000 a month until the system is paid off.

Through donations from local businesses and current and former students of Bergkamp’s, the school has already raised more than $160,000.

Once panels are installed at every school site over time, the Maize Unified School District’s solar initiative could use the savings generated for enhancing curriculum and technology, as well as reducing class sizes, according to officials.

Long term goals outlined in the project involve establishing a career technical education pathway for solar panel technicians; creating a new foundation to assist smaller schools with seed money to start their own initiative; and helping to replicate the program in other districts or states.

Officials intend to begin installing solar panels at Maize South High School during the beginning of next school year.

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