Large solar power system goes online at Kansas high school

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita-area high school is operating one of the largest privately-owned solar power systems in Kansas and hopes to generate enough energy in one day to power the school for a month.

Maize High School on Tuesday switched on a 240-kilowatt system, which has 720 solar panels, is 400 feet long and 75 feet wide, and is next to the school, The Wichita Eagle reported .

Science teacher Stan Bergkamp pushed for the project, in part to react to the threat of climate change. He estimates that once the system is paid for, it will save the school $3,200 a month and reduce annual carbon emissions by 240 tons.

"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 the paper.

Bergkamp first presented the school board with a plan in 2017. Since then, he and supporters have raised more than $160,000 of the $400,000 needed and financed the remaining funds through ICM Inc., an ethanol plant in Colwich. Support has come from Bergkamp's current and former students, Maize Elementary School, local businesses and colleagues from around the world.

"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," Bergkamp said.

Mary Sevart, who graduated from the high school this spring, said watching Bergkamp's passion for sustainable energy and eco-friendly living helped her decide to study biomedical engineering at University of Kansas this fall.

"I think projects like these are very important to our society and for our children to survive in this world," Sevart said. "I think we need to quickly come up with solutions to this problem (of climate change)."

ICM Inc. will lease the $400,000 system to Maize High School for six years, with an agreement to pay $2,000 a month until it is paid off. Bergkamp said the project was financed through ICM Inc. because the company could receive a 30 percent tax credit on the infrastructure while the Maize school district could not.

Once the system is paid off, plans are for a similar project for Maize South High School, the second largest consumer of energy in the district, and surrounding schools, he said.

"The short-term goal would be to have every building in the district to have some type of solar energy to supplement their energies," Bergkamp said. "The long-term goal is to use this as a model that other districts can use."

He said officials from Norman, Oklahoma, and Junction City have contacted him about installing the system at their individual schools.

To honor the completion of the project, Maize High School will host a celebratory 'Solar Fest' on June 27.

An Ikea store in Merriam opened in 2015 with a rooftop solar energy system that has more than 2,300 panels spread over 92,000 square feet.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com


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