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Schools, education parks awarded solar project funds

Westar Energy selects 15 organizations for solar education and research program

July 31, 2014
Fifteen Kansas organizations have won funding to soak up

the sun's energy as part of Westar Energy's Solar Photovoltaic Project announced earlier this

year. Selected projects showcased innovative plans to test the merits of solar energy under

Kansas conditions and to educate students and engage the public. The projects will be located

throughout eastern Kansas.

"Electricity is core to how we live, work and play, and our energy landscape is dynamic.

Interest in solar energy is part of that dynamic. Local schools and organizations will be great

partners to collect and use this information to help us and our communities better understand

how solar might fit into our overall energy resources in Kansas. We hope projects will inspire

our youths to excel in math and science by providing real world application," Mark Ruelle,

Westar Energy president and chief executive officer, said.

In cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Kansas Department of

Health and Environment, the projects represent more than a $1 million investment. Each

installation is between 10 and 30 kilowatts, offsetting a portion of the customers' traditional

energy demand.

Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia installed the first solar panels funded through

the program in June. The school installed three solar arrays to provide electricity to their Jones

Education Center. One array is mounted on the roof and two on the ground. One will be

adjustable allowing students to learn how manipulating the panels as the sun's path changes

seasonally can affect generation outputs and efficiency. The building, designed by Kansas State

University students and built by FHTC students, is also served by a wind turbine and geothermal


Additional projects awarded through the program:


Great Plains Nature Center, provides opportunities to the public to learn about natural

resources, especially the wildlife and plant species of the Great Plains and serves as a community

resource for conservation and related information. In 2013, the GPNC provided more than 1,300

educational programs to nearly 30,000 people, including teachers. In addition to the rooftop solar

array, the nature center plans to install an informational solar-powered kiosk that educates about

energy in the Great Plains and a touch screen that includes real-time and archival information

about the GPNC solar array and other educational information to help visitors better understand

how solar performs and to present related information on its website, including making the

output of the solar array available to download.

Sedgwick County Zoo, gives guests an opportunity to see wild animals up close. In 2013, the

Zoo Education Department provided formal programming for nearly 56,000 individuals and

more than 43,000 schoolchildren visited the zoo. The zoo proposed a ground-mounted solar

array to be installed near the Amphibian and Reptile Building. The zoo will design and create

informational signs and possibly interactive elements to educate about the solar panels. These

informative signs will highlight renewable energy sources and demonstrate how the solar panels


University United Methodist Church/Wichita State University, will collaborate on a

solar project. The church, which is near the main entrance of WSU, hosts many school activities.

The solar array will be mounted on the roof of the church. Their application included plans to

provide a solar energy information center, a trailer-mounted WSU College of Engineering

portable solar research unit, a solar powered carport for two plug-in electric vehicles. The project

will include an outdoor LED sign that displays real time information about the solar panel's

energy production and the building's energy needs and an informational kiosk with a touch

screen to enable users to learn about solar-related topics. WSU will integrate the panels and the

output information into programs for its engineering students.


Topeka Zoo, proposes to install solar panels at its facility and integrate the array into the zoo's

Living Classroom where programs, meetings, and public events are held. The zoo plans an

educational exhibit that displays real time solar production information and shows how solar

panels work. In addition to the thousands of annual zoo visitors, aspects of this project will be

visible to the nearly 150,000 visitors per year to Gage Park.

USD 501's Kanza Education and Science Park, includes plans to install solar panels on

the Westar Energy Education Center, a historic milk barn that is being remodeled to become a

hands-on research science education center. It will have four to six classrooms/labs, historical

displays, meeting rooms and become the central meeting and learning site for the Kanza Tall

Grass Prairie Research and Education Site, Westar Energy Education Station, and the Kanza

Science Park. It will serve as a field study location the Topeka Public School students, patrons

and visitors from Kansas and the nation. The site also is home to a wind turbine and the district is

considering geothermal options, creating potential for lessons and comparisons using data

collected on site.


Prairie Park Nature Center, is an 80 acre nature preserve and education center on the east

side of Lawrence that provides nature and Kansas prairie ecosystem education. Each year, about

45,000 children and adults visit the nature center, explore the native prairie, walk the trails and

interact with wildlife. The solar panels and solar energy education would be integrated into the

center's existing programs. New solar-focused programming would be developed for children

and adults. The nature center will install a kiosk in its foyer that will include a monitor to display

real-time output of the solar panels and incorporate signage above the various nature center

displays, explaining the electricity use of that element. The project will also provide a model to

other agencies and commercial business of similar size that are considering solar power.

University of Kansas, plans to install solar panels on its Measurement, Materials and

Sustainable Environment Center (M2SEC). This building is used by engineering students for

energy conservation and alternative energy research. Along with a kiosk, KU plans to include a

weather station and energy monitoring system to educate students and administration on solar

energy. KU proposes putting half the panels on the upper portion of the roof and half on the

lower, making the lower panels accessible to students and visitors.

Sunset Zoo, welcomes about 75,000 visitors per year to its 26-acre site. Sunset Zoo proposed

installation of a roof-mounted solar array at two potential locations, either would be paired with a

single, ground-mounted panel to be used in educational and community outreach. The array

would be accompanied by signs that would serve as highly visible, interactive resources to

guests. Information about the solar panels and their production would be integrated into the

classes provided by the zoo and shared through its website, social media and newsletters. The

zoo is considering installing panels on the Nature Exploration Center, which serves as an

entryway for guests and as the zoo's primary education space or on the Pavilion located in the

heart of the park and a central place for many guests' visits.


Dillon Nature Center, hosts about 100,000 visitors per year and provides environmental

education programs for more than 20,000 students annually. Informal use of the 23-acre park

includes tourists, hikers, business meetings, weddings, dog walkers and anglers. The panels

would be installed on the Visitor's Center, which houses an exhibit gallery of interactive displays

about nature, including a room called "The Forces of Nature." Interactive educational exhibits

about solar energy will be added to accompany those exploring tornados, erosion and the forces

of wind and water. Classes about solar energy would also be added to the nature center's



USD 305, Stewart Elementary School, serves about 400 children in kindergarten through

fifth grade. The school proposes a roof-mounted solar array and four methods of sharing

program information: online presentation; local school board recognition and news updates;

public outreach and invitations to view the new solar system installation; and student instruction

that incorporates the solar array. Students at Stewart Elementary School and students visiting

from other schools on field trips will learn about the solar energy system through their science

classes. The project will offer a real world example of renewable energy sources and

conservation. Students will learn about the relationships among science, technology, society, and



Independence Community College, plans to install solar panels on its Cessna Learning

Center, which houses the FabLab. FabLab is home to the school's engineering-related associates

degree programs, Entrepreneurship Program, and IT offices. In addition to ICC classes, the

FabLab offers fabrication and design-related programming to kindergarten through high school

age students and to the public. The project will enable additional photovoltaic curriculum

modules to five different curricula on campus: electrical engineering; mechanical engineering;

K-12 fabrication/design; public fabrication/design; and K-12 summer science programs.


Pittsburg State University, proposes installing solar panels on its new Robert W. Plaster

Center, which will host athletic events, student activities, and community activities. PSU is also

home to the Kansas Technology Center and the state's only sustainability focused bachelor's

degree program. The school estimates 2,000 students would benefit from the use of the solar

array in research and demonstration projects directly related to their field of study. 5,000

undergraduate PSU students would learn about renewable energy using the solar array as a

resource in the Freshman Experience. PSU also has consoles located at various locations on

campus that show the energy consumption at PSU building by building. New consoles will be

installed at the Robert W. Plaster Center and the Kansas Technology Center that will show

energy being provided by the solar array. PSU also hosts a variety of educational events for

youths and adults throughout the area.


USD 260 Derby North Middle School, plans to install solar panels at its new middle school

located near East 63rd Street South and Rock Road which is currently under construction. Derby

Middle School plans to integrate information from its ground-mounted solar project into its

science, technology, engineering and math curriculum (STEM). Students will have an

opportunity for classroom and extracurricular engagement with the solar project. Several

teachers have already started planning an extracurricular club to support the project and district

curriculum leaders have pledged to work with school leadership to insert and incorporate

authentic learning opportunities into the classroom. The school also plans to use its website and

social media channels to raise awareness about solar energy among its patrons and the



USD 343, Perry Lecompton High School, proposes installing solar panels near its

greenhouse. Earth-Space Science and Conservation courses offered at the school discuss energy,

electricity and renewable resources. Having a solar array nearby would benefit students by

allowing them to not only observe the materials but also use stored data to determine the amount

of electricity demand offset by the arrays on days of varying weather conditions. The data would

allow students to analyze the performance of solar energy panels in addition to comparing and

contrasting AC and DC power. Teachers could use the array to generate more interest and

understanding of energy resources. The greenhouse is used to educate middle and elementary

school students within the district as well. The district plans to encourage all of its teachers to

integrate the use of the data from the array to teach students about real-world situations when

using alternate energy resources. As a way to encourage sharing information with the

community, students will help create a brochure about the solar array, give a presentation to the

USD 343 Board of Education, as well as a presentation to be used with younger students visiting

the site. The district also is considering a plan to share real time and archived data for the solar

panels on its website alongside information from a new weather station.


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