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Schools, education parks awarded solar project funds.

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Topeka, Kan., 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 wells. 

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 work.

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 offerings.  


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 environment. 


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 community. 


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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Westar Energy, Inc. (NYSE: WR) is Kansas’ largest electric utility. For more than a century, we have provided Kansans the safe, reliable electricity needed to power their businesses and homes. Every day our team of professionals takes on projects to generate and deliver electricity, protect the environment and provide excellent service to our nearly 700,000 customers. Westar has 7,200 MW of electric generation capacity fueled by coal, uranium, natural gas, wind and landfill gas. We are also a leader in electric transmission in Kansas. Our innovative customer service programs include mobile-enabled customer care, a smart meter pilot project and paving the way for electric vehicle adoption. Our employees live, volunteer and work in the communities we serve.

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Media Contact:

Gina Penzig

Director, corporate communications

Phone: 785.575.8089

Media line: 888.613.0003


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