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Water and Light talks solar power

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WORTHINGTON — In a lengthy discussion during its regular meeting Monday afternoon, the Worthington Public Utilities Water and Light Commission decided to explore options for solar power. 

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“I’ve been talking about something in solar since the day I’ve got on here, and we haven’t moved an inch,” Commissioner Ron Wood said. “It’s time to do a project that makes a statement. I’m really serious about this.”

Wood said there is $2 million in reserves for projects dealing with renewable sources of power.

Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain said he has met with vendors to look at options. And while nothing was decided on Monday, the commission will continue to look into using solar power.

Wood suggested the cart shed at Prairie View Golf Links as a possible location for solar panels. However, that was outside of the WPU service area, which was a deal breaker, some of the commissioners said.

“I disagree with doing it at the golf course for a number of reasons, one would be it’s out of our service area,” Commissioner Kevin Donovan said. “No. 2, it’s only used a few months out of the year. Let’s do something at city hall that’s going to be used 24/7. Then start determining the uses.”

The fire station or a work shed were also discussed as options.

“I think there is a lot of information here,” Commissioner Jim Elsing said. “We have to have options and a group consensus of which way do we go. Is there anyway we as a commission can be educated on the solar options?”

The wastewater plant was presented as an option. There is space to place the solar panels, and it is a big user of electricity, Hain said.

“From what we’ve looked at thus far, I think we can accomplish the most by starting with a small, ground-mount array,” Hain said. “We have what I would consider an ideal location (at the wastewater plant). It’s secure, it’s south facing, it has no trees and it is expandable.”

Hain said there could be issues with current contracts for electricity and transmission. He said he would look into some details and report back to the commission.

Hain also gave an update on the water levels. He said last week, the level in Well 26 came up five inches, which was the largest increase seen in a single week this year. However, the water level isn’t rebounding as fast as it has historically.

“From March 7 through April 18, Well 26 has gained a total of 11 inches,” Hain said. “A year ago, in the same time frame, it gained 84. The year before that, it gained 57.”

Hain said this is supposed to be the recharge time. And that isn’t happening.

“I’ve been hearing from a lot of folks who are out working dirt and they have not seen it this dry in as long as they can remember,” Hain said.

If it doesn’t start raining, Hain said, further options may be taken. There is currently a ban on non essential water use in town.

“I think we may have to start discussing what is that next step,” Hain said. “I think we talked about it a little bit in the past, that next step is, unfortunately, going to start affecting some livelihoods.”

The commission also heard a report on a comparison rate study from Owatonna Public Utilities.

On the electric side, Worthington was close to the lowest cost among the 15 entities surveyed. For water, WPU is in the middle of the pack.

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.

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