School to build its first wind turbine

? A 2-year-old student-initiated green project has taken another step forward in the Shawnee Mission school district.

Doug Moles, a Shawnee Mission West High School science teacher, recently received approval to place a working model wind turbine at the school, the final step in creating the Shawnee Mission West Green Energy Resource Lab, which also includes solar panels atop the school.

The turbine is a first for the Shawnee Mission school district and the area.

Creating the Green Energy Resource Lab was the idea of students in Moles’ Science and Survival class two years ago.

“We talked about climate change, carbon dioxide emissions and wind and solar power,” he said. “The students asked if we could have solar panels and a working model of a wind turbine at the school.”

Creating the Energy Lab wasn’t a cakewalk for Moles or the school district. The turbine would have to be 60 feet tall in order to receive an uninterrupted, constant stream of wind. Because the turbine will be visible from its location, permits were required from the city of Overland Park, Moles said.

Gene Johnson, Shawnee Mission superintendent, became involved with the project when he was associate superintendent. “You can’t just put it up; you have to have approval from city and those providing the financial part,” Johnson said.

The city approved a five-year special-use permit for the project. Kansas Energy Commission has donated $15,000, to be split between solar panels and the wind turbine. Moles applied for several grants and funding came together, including another $22,200 in grants and other donations. Students even sold cookie dough to help finance the project.

The solar energy panels were installed atop the school last March. They were fully functional a month later.

Inverters on both the solar panels and the turbine convert the original direct current to alternating current, Moles said. Then the inverter analyses the grid fluctuations and cycle, and the power is introduced to the grid.

The solar arrays capture energy by using the sun’s electromagnetic rays, and the wind turbine harnesses wind energy in the air and converts the mechanical energy into electrical energy, Moles said.

Because the solar panels and turbine are working models, they have no significant impact on the school or surrounding areas. Rather, they are a teaching tool for students to learn the conversion of energy and how alternative energy sources will play out in the future.

“It was very forward-thinking of students two years ago,” Moles said.

Because these are working models, the information is sent to Web sites.

“We can access the production day-by-day, real-time data,” Moles said. “The lab offers hands-on learning tools and real-time applications for science classes.”

Shawnee Mission West will be the first school in the district to offer such a program, Moles said.

So what’s next for the Green Energy Resource Lab once the turbine is finished in the next month or so?

“Well, NOVA (the science show) talked of a steam-powered turbine. It could power a city of hundreds of thousands,” Moles said.

While the lab may not be ready for a steam-powered turbine, Moles said the next step was educating students on alternative energy.

“With job cuts and recession, alternative energy is a viable option for future employment,” Moles said. “We talk about climate change, and I think that a lot of people want to leave the world a better place when they leave as when they came.”