A large ground-based solar array system being built at Maize High School is nearly complete, and will soon join the power grid.
Installers with King Solar set up 740 solar panels over the past few weeks in a field off North 119th Street West, just west of the high school campus.
This week, crews are connecting the wiring on long metal grids of solar panels. Once that is completed, a two-week testing process will begin.
Maize High science teacher Stan Bergkamp started the Maize Solar Initiative more than a year ago. He says once the 240 kW solar energy system goes online in June, the district will see savings on electric bills immediately.
“Hopefully, when we get that electricity bill in July for June’s usage, that’s when we will really be able to see what the savings are," Bergkamp says. "We have computer models that say we should save about $3,200 a month."
The Maize Board of Education approved a lease agreement between the district and ICM of Colwich, which will save the district more than $100,000 in the installation of the panels. After the lease agreement expires in six years, the district will own the panels and save an estimated $30,000 a year.
“They could take advantage of a federal tax credit because it’s a solar system that the school can’t because we don’t pay federal taxes. That was one of the best things to happen,” Bergkamp says. “Basically, we are getting a $400,000 system for $280,000.”
Bergkamp got the solar energy project off the ground with grass roots fundraising and community engagement. He raised more than $150,000 toward a goal of $385,000. A majority of the donations came from current and former students, parents and local businesses.
He says he underestimated students’ involvement and pride. Elementary students raised about $500 for the project; high school students are buying apparel and cups with the Maize Solar Initiative logo; and students participated in special events at local businesses that designated proceeds for the project.
Bergkamp says seeing the idea of a solar project come to life is one of the coolest things he has done in his 25-year teaching career.
“Partly because of the support that I’ve received from my kids and their parents, and kids from literally all over the United States,” he says. “From coast to coast, they’ve heard about it, and they’ve donated money and said 'Hey, we want to be a part of this.'”
Bergkamp says using solar energy to power the school will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, save the district money and provide educational opportunities for students.
The solar panels will provide real-time data that can be incorporated into science and math curriculums, and the district is considering establishing a training program for solar panel techs.
“If the district had just written the check and bought the system, we would still see the financial aspect of it, but we wouldn’t have the emotional tie in from the kids because they want to be a part of this,” Bergkamp says.
The Maize Solar Initiative will also establish a solar savings account to be able to outfit other district schools with solar panels in the future.