- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

WAYLAND, Iowa (AP) - Work is anticipated to begin this summer on a planned solar farm at a small, southern Iowa school district, and officials say its completion would make the district the first to be almost fully powered by sunlight.

The WACO district in January installed a large solar collector farm behind its elementary school in Crawfordsville, KCRG-TV (http://bit.ly/1FTnOu3 ) reported.

Crews are expected to begin work July on another solar farm behind the junior-senior high building in Wayland, and when it’s done, district officials say the farms together should provide more than 90 percent of its electric needs.

Superintendent Darrell Smith said the solar farms came about from discussions about how the district could save money.

“The initial conversation we had was, ‘How can we reduce general fund expenditures and save money for the district?’” he said.

Smith said the initial solar panel setup already has had an impact, saving around $20,000 in costs.

Switching to solar energy became a teachable moment for fifth- and sixth-graders who took daily measurements at the solar farm and computed its power output. Teacher Chad McClanahan said students began rooting for more sunny skies so the system would produce more power.

“It makes it meaningful when they can see what’s happening and it makes a difference when you talk about science and green power and then say ‘Let’s go look at it,’” he said.

WACO school board members are expected to soon open bids on the planned solar expansion. At least a dozen other school districts have contacted WACO officials over the solar conversion.

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Information from: KCRG-TV, http://www.kcrg.com

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