A Maize High School teacher is working on a plan to use solar energy to help power the school.
Physics teacher Stan Bergkamp received approval from the USD 266 Board of Education to raise money for a rooftop array of 740 solar panels — a 240 kW system.
He says as soon as the system is up and running, the savings will be immediate. The panels are expected to save about $3,000 a month, or $36,000 a year, in electricity costs. The district currently pays about $30,000 a month for electricity at Maize High School.
Bergkamp’s solar initiative would use the electricity cost savings to pay for solar panels at other Maize schools.
"It’s going to start at Maize High School, but that’s going to spread to hopefully all the schools in the district," Bergkamp says. "We’ll be the first district in the state to have every school in the district generating electricity with solar panels."
The solar array will also reduce carbon emissions.
He says in addition to fiscal and environmental benefits, an onsite solar array would have an educational component, too. Real-time data from converting sunlight into electricity can be incorporated into science and math curriculums.
Bergkamp says the first installation will cost about $385,000. So far, he has received about $41,000 in donations from current and former students, staff and community members. Bergkamp says even if he doesn’t reach the goal, the project will move forward. He says he will add as many solar panels as possible based on the amount of funding available.
The solar panels are expected to be in place by late fall.
"Once these solar panels get built, it’s not a matter of if you get a return on the investment; it’s just a matter of when you pay for it, and then everything else becomes basically pure profit on the system," Bergkamp says.
"It’s a unique opportunity to invest in something, and you know, it’s going to pay dividends. There is no, 'Well, maybe it will or maybe it won’t.'"
The savings from the first installation will accumulate until there's enough money to install a 240 kW solar array at Maize South High School. Other schools in the district would continue to be added as the savings grow. Due to regulations, eight middle and elementary schools would be limited to a 150 kW system. Each one would generate $23,000 a year in savings.
Bergkamp says the idea is simple: As more solar installations go online, the savings will become exponential for the district. Once all the schools have solar arrays, the money the district saves on electricity costs will be reinvested into curriculum and technology.
"You can’t change the world, but you can change one small piece of it," Bergkamp says. "So that’s what I want to bring to this project is the idea that, yes, reducing carbon dioxide emissions from Maize High School at 270 tons a year is a drop in the bucket, but it’s our drop.
"And if you get enough drops in the bucket, then you start to a make a difference. So that’s why it’s so important for this project to succeed."
Research by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), The Solar Foundation, and Generation 180 — a clean energy nonprofit — says about 5 percent of all K-12 U.S. schools are now powered by the sun, and their solar capacity has almost doubled in the last three years.
In Kansas, there are at least seven schools, including Derby North Middle School in the Wichita area, using solar panels. Most systems are 10 kW or less.
Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.
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