Buhler saw a spike in energy costs after the state’s February cold snap, but now the school district is thinking big. Kansas schools are looking to incorporate solar power to reduce energy costs.
Buhler’s management brought in a teacher who pitched the largest solar power system for a school in Kansas and began to accumulate information.
“We want to save money, be more efficient and use it as an educational tool,” said Laura Meyer Dick, president of Buhler’s Board of Education and the person who came up with the idea. “We want to use it for the benefit of the district.”
Dick, along with the rest of Buhler’s board, learned from Stan Bergkamp, who teaches physics at Maize High School, that using solar systems to power school buildings works.
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What works at Maize High School
Three years ago, Bergkamp decided that Maize High School should be more energy efficient. He studied the possibility of using solar panels. Once his investigation showed that there could be positive results, he came up with a proposal and went to his school board.
Teaching physics was a plus. He had already understood the concept of how solar energy works. All he had to do was find the funding and the logistics.
Bergkamp found a nearby ethanol plant that was ready to help with the $ 400,000 unit that powers the school’s career center – a building with more than a dozen classrooms and spaces. meeting.
“We’re saving about $ 32,000 a year,” he said. “If you do the math, they (Corn) still make an 8% return on your money. That’s a guaranteed 8% return on your investment.”
Current and former Bergkamp students, friends and community members contributed $ 200,000 to the effort, which not only saves money and protects the environment, but also d ” educate students about alternative energies.
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“This is an opportunity for schools to invest their money and then turn around and make money with the savings they are going to make,” Bergkamp said.
The 240-kilowatt system, which has more than 700 solar panels, is the length of a football field. The panels look like three bands that run across the field.
Although the Maize signs are on the ground, Bergkamp said they can be placed on a roof, a covered walkway or a covered parking lot for teachers or school buses.
Corn turns the area where the panels are located into an environmental learning area. In addition to the signs, they have a pond and have planted native grasses.
Bergkamp said school districts can partner with a third party who will pay for the system and allow them, the company, to access federal tax credits.
It’s similar to a rental with an option to buy situation, he said.
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Solar power in other Kansas schools
Kansas has a few pockets where schools use solar power for education. Most of these schools are located in the Greater Kansas City area. In addition, there is a less than 12 kilowatt system at a school in Derby, Salina and DeSoto. In total, a dozen schools in Kansas have a small number of panels, including a 35-kilowatt system in Olathe.
Neighboring states are also looking at solar power. Oklahoma has a school that is experimenting with this alternative energy. Nebraska has two. But Colorado and Missouri are doing more. Colorado has over 80 schools with signs, while Show-Me State has over 100.
Recently, the Winfield School District decided to power a barn with solar energy. The plans are already established.
“The project was built around a successful student,” said Autumn Watts, spokesperson for the Winfield School District.
Bergkamp will continue to monitor entrances and exits, keeping records of all data. Every semester, schools across the state contact him with questions.
“I think they are waiting to see the numbers,” he said. “We’re kind of at the cutting edge of technology. They want to see three to four years of data.
Buhler has already done some research and sees the benefits of introducing this form of energy. They are planning a feasibility study on what would be best.
“We want them to give us the best bang for our buck,” Dick said.
Buhler’s board will not decide which unit or school will receive the solar panels until all studies and interviews with solar companies are completed. They will also need to get business partners to help them with the cost.
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But Superintendent Cindy Couchman and the board think Union Valley Elementary School might be the right place for a unit. They also examine Buhler Secondary School and Buhler Primary School.
“Everyone wins,” Couchman said. “It seems like the right thing to do.”
Couchman and Dick both said they would explore the possibilities and continue to seek expert advice.
“I like what they (Buhler) are doing,” Bergkamp said. “I think they will be successful.”