NIPSCO recently recognized the Porter County Career and Tech Center with a Luminary Award for Environmental Stewardship. The award recognized our Career Center’s commitment to technical education while developing students’ knowledge of environmentally sustainable energy sources and their practical application.
The Career and Tech Center provides technical training to juniors and seniors from every public high school in Porter County (plus Hobart High School). The Career Center faculty embarked on a mission to cut utility costs in light of significant cuts in school funding. Faculty and students brainstormed ways to reduce costs and determined that waste reduction, recycling, and alternative energy were possible sources for reducing costs and even providing additional income. Faculty and staff determined reducing energy to be a focus of our school. We turned off lights, computers, and eliminated unnecessary printing by using more portable document formats. Our first year of implementation resulted in a 10% savings on our electric bill just by reducing usage. We simultaneously developed a recycling program and recycled as much paper, plastic, glass, and metal as possible.
Our faculty then embarked on creating the first school-based alternative energy demonstration site, still the only one in Indiana, as of this writing. Instructor Dave Kenning, along with his Electronics students, installed one solar panel on our roof with the intent of using solar power to illuminate a single hallway display case. That experiment was successful and encouraged us to utilize LED lighting for the display lights, making more solar energy available for other tasks. We subsequently added other solar panels and used that power to power half of our hallway lights (again using LED bulbs). Our students learned about photovoltaic cells and also learned how to incorporate the free DC power into our existing AC grid. Their instructor also added features like motion and timer technology (installed by students) so lights were only on when necessary. Numerous students have been involved in this endeavor, such as Paul Bui, a Valparaiso High School graduate who is now employed by the Fronius Corporation, a world leader in inverter technology and solar engineering.
Our Modern Machining students, under Greg Carmack’s guidance, designed and built our first residential-sized wind generator. Today, we have three different types of wind generators and one with numerous replaceable hubs so students can compare the efficiency of a wind turbine with 3, 4, or 6 blades on it. These projects have motivated staff and students. Former students who significantly contributed to our alternative energy project included Kouts High School alumni Chip Horn (now a Purdue Engineering graduate and employed at Konecranes USA) from our Modern Machining program and AJ Miller from our Electronics class (present owner of M&D Landscaping) who collaborated with Washington Township graduate Harrison Draves on a robotic solar tracker.
We also have a student-installed (along with technical expertise from Midwest Wind and Solar Company) 7.7 KwH solar array that produces electricity that we sell back to NIPSCO. NIPSCO was a significant partner in that development. NIPSCO President Kathleen O’Leary assisted us in overcoming a technical issue, and we were honored to have her join us for our ribbon cutting when the project officially went online. To date, our project has sold 26.1 megawatt hours of electricity back to NIPSCO and has powered lighting in our building. Other significant partners in our project include the Valparaiso Redevelopment Corporation, the Valparaiso Community Schools facility maintenance staff, and retired electrical engineer and school volunteer Joe Baker.
We have had the opportunity to host numerous tours of our facility for several dignitaries, including Governor Mike Pence, Congressman Pete Visclosky, Mayor Jon Costas, Senator Ed Charbonneau, and Indiana School Superintendent Glenda Ritz, among many others. We learn together with our students every day about the dynamic relationship between alternative energy and reducing the usage of fossil fuels. We want to be part of the solution for helping our country on the road to energy independence.