Goessel solar project takes form on polar-cold day

Goessel Superintendent John Fast (left) watches as Mark Horst of King Solar secures a solar panel with assistance from co-workers Phillip Kauffman and Caleb Wheeler (far right).Against a backdrop more in tune with polar energy, the Goessel school district finally saw its solar-energy dream take form last week.

Cloudy skies, sub-freezing temperatures with persistent winds on Thursday didn?t keep workers with King Solar from assemblying a bank of 36 solar panels on the west side of the grade school.

The project, funded by a $73,000 grant awarded to USD 411 by Westar Energy this summer, is expected to save the district up to $200 a month for electricity once it comes on line in mid-January.

?By converting sunlight into electricity, it gives it more versatility to use that electricity in a variety of forms other than just heating air or heating water,? Superintendent John Fast said of the solar voltaic energy system.

The contractor for the project is King Solar Kansas, based in Hutchin?son.

?We have worked with Westar on a number of projects in the past and they are an enjoyable company to work with,? said Mark Horst, King Solar?s head of operations. ?In fact, we will be at the Hesston Public Library next week installing a very similar, roof mounted, project.?

Application process

Fast received word in August that the Goessel school district had qualified for one of the highly competitive Westar grants.

?I had seen information that Westar was inviting applications for the solar voltaic energy grant,? he said. ?I knew the competition would be really stiff. I knew, being a small school, we would have to probably work extra hard to try to get this grant.?

Wheeler (left) and Kauffman continue the process.Fast said the grant application was written in-house rather than by a professional grant writer.

?We had at least 12 staff members helping to contribute, from kindergarten through 12th grade, how they would incorporate solar energy into their curriculum?whether it was kindergarten level or upper-level science level,? he said.

?(Westar) said that was one of the strongest components of our application. We had such good contributions from all of our staff for this grant.?

Fast said around 100 applicants sought the grant.

?They initially awarded 12, but they were able, within their budget, to go to the next two and I believe we were in that next one or two that received it,? Fast said. ?I guess we were in the top 14 or 15 applicants.?

Ben Postlethwait, who worked closely with Fast as a member of the Westar Green Team, said the company currently has 18 such projects in Kansas. Only four of the recent grants went to school districts. Other recipients were a mix of zoos, nature centers and colleges and universities.

?We are extremely happy that they felt our application was worthy to receive that (grant),? Fast said.

Educational component

In addition to generating electricity, the project at Goessel carries an educational component. Near the large bank of panels is a single panel that will be used to run instruments that monitor solar production.

?They can adjust the tilt if they want to put different types of colored film over the top to isolate which rays of light have the most energy,? Fast said. ?The physics class wants to (monitor) the variance in energy on the different light spectrum by using different filter paper.?

Fast said Horst will upload the software on to the district?s server so information can be accessed online.

?We will be able to see how each panel is generating and what they?re generating (as a unit) each day,? Fast said. ?There will hopefully be a data collection digital spread sheet that can graph that for each week and each month.?

Goessel school buildings will be equipped with about 36 access points.

?I think there are enough access points that I believe every staff person in each classroom will have access to go online and be able to show their students what?s happening each day,? Fast said.

?I do know they will also install, at minimum, one digital display,? he added. ?We will likely set that in the commons area of the high school so when visitors come for basketball games, programs or other events, they can look and see what?s happening in terms of electrical generation from this bank of solar collectors.?

Fast said the system comes with a 25-year warranty and that the panels are built to withstand baseball-sized hailstones.

?This is a wonderful addition for our schools and our community,? Fast said.

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