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Ameren solar project used as teaching tool

Construction is continuing on the Ameren Missouri solar arrays over the Show Me Center parking lots on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

Long before it goes online and starts producing electricity in July, this construction project is serving other purposes.

“We see this Neighborhood Solar Program as really a program beyond just energy,” said Russ Burger, Southeast Division director for Ameren Missouri. “In the last few months, we have seen on-site training, we have created construction jobs to the tune of about 60 construction jobs, and [provided] educational opportunities for Southeast Missouri State University [students].”

Although located on the university campus, the electricity produced by the solar panels will not be limited to university customers. The electricity will be added to the power grid to serve all of Ameren’s customers.

“Energy produced by this solar project you see here is for all Ameren Missouri customers. It’s going to produce enough energy to power 130 homes for a year, which is really significant,” Burger said.

This project is part of Ameren’s commitment to greener energy. Solar arrays like this will be built all over the state, but the one at Southeast is currently the largest one.

The university is using this project to further the education of its construction management students.

Before construction began, representatives from Ameren discussed the planning process with students.

Southeast students are not actually working on the construction, but they have donned hard hats and taken tours of the site.

“We are training students for the workforce, both today and in the future, and the construction management program is a prime example of that,” said Dr. Brad Deken, chair of the Department of Engineering and Technology at Southeast.

“We’re trying to put real-life experiences in front of them as much as possible. A lot of times that ends up being a case study. But when we can work with a group like Ameren and bring a real project that’s happening live, it’s such a benefit for our students.

“They have had visits out here throughout the semester so they could see the different aspects of the project, talk to the people who are doing it live and figure out how you make these large-scale projects happen, because these students behind me, they’ll be doing projects like this in just a few years,” Deken said.

During tours of the construction site, students were instructed in geotechnical survey issues, site layout and foundation for canopies, how the system will interact with the existing grid and safety protocols of the site (because the parking lots are still used for parking when the Show-Me Center has events). Later tours enabled students to see steel erection and panel installation.

In addition to students going outside to tour the site, Ameren Missouri employees have come inside to make presentations to their classrooms.

Presenters from Ameren Missouri attended the following Southeast classes: Methods and Materials I, Architectural Drafting and Building Mechanical and Electrical Systems.

Ameren Missouri and South-east students have discussed the Grid Modernization Bill (Senate Bill 564), Ameren’s Smart Energy Plan, the Neighborhood Solar Plan and education incentives for construction managers and contractors about new technologies.

They have also discussed specific parts of the project itself, including 1200 kW-AC production once the project goes online, the 25-35 year life of project, site layout and planning, concrete foundations/pilings, steel canopy erection and solar panel/electrical installation (including discussion of inverters, distribution and transformers).

While in the classroom, Southeast students have conducted small-scale projects that mimic the ongoing construction techniques they saw outside. This has given students hands-on experience to enhance their skills and knowledge in solar energy construction and integration.

Construction management is very much in demand, Deken concluded. “What we are doing is training students on how to manage large-scale construction projects.”

There are about 60 students taking three different classes in the construction management program.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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