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Commission OKs solar power on entrance signs

WORTHINGTON —In a discussion regarding solar power, the Worthington Public Utilities Water and Light Commission agreed to fund the solar panels on the new proposed Worthington entrance signs.

0 Talk about it

Commission member Ron Wood suggested starting with a smaller project as a pilot program within the city. He had suggested Prairie View Golf Links. Next year, the club is going to have electric golf carts.

“If I was to have my way, we’d do a very small project that could lead to a bigger project and another bigger project and maybe use city facilities as our test,” Wood said. “We could run a test to see what exposure (Prairie View) has, what is does and what it does in comparison.”

Wood said his goal was to have solar power for city hall and the fire station.

“We put money aside for green and for renewable projects, I would think that if we could start with a very small project that might not cost as much and just see what it does and move into city hall and fire hall,” Wood said. “I think this would be a good starting point.”

General Manager Scott Hain said having a solar project would lend itself to hands-on experience for his workers. That way, if a private citizen wanted to do the same, they have already done similar projects.

“The other advantage is if it’s a facility that WPU or the city was paying the electric bill on, we have those avoided costs,” Hain said.

After discussion, commission member Kevin Donovan suggested the solar signs.

“My motion is to commit to lighting the signs they are going to start working on next spring with solar instead of having to do all the electrical lines,” Donovan. “To say WPU has committed to lighting those signs.”

The money would come from the renewable energy fund within the WPU.

“What if they don’t want solar?” commission member Gary Hoffman asked.

“That’s fine, they still get the ultimate choice,” Wood said.

“They saw the Windom ones and they thought it would be a great idea,” commission member Randy Thompson said.

Aaron Backman, executive director of the Windom Economic Development Authority told the Daily Globe in August the solar units on each of Windom’s entrance signs cost approximately $2,000.

Hain reported he had a meeting with Abraham Algadi, Manager of the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation; Darlene Macklin, Executive Director of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce; and Genny Turner.

Hain said the three were proposing a new program called ‘Concierge Worthington.’ The program would create a new position to focus on community recruiting and welcoming activities. It would be based out of the chamber of commerce.

“Some of the things that were brought up is you attract new, professional folks to town and a big part of keeping them here and attracting them to the community is making their families feel welcome,” Hain said.

The thought going forward, Hain reported, was focusing on the largest employers in the city who are trying to recruit professionals. The group was looking for start-up money from WPU.

“I have a lot of trouble that we don’t advertise the position,” Wood said. “I have a lot of trouble it’s not bi-lingual. I haven’t seen a job description.”

Hain said when there was a welcome wagon, the utilities office would be a first point of contact for most people.

“If people need electricity, they will figure out where to go,” he said.

The position would be between 20 or 25 hours per week.

“I don’t think that’s feasible,” Donovan said. “Also, shouldn’t all the major employers be kicking in on this?”

The question of money came up.

“I had the question, ‘Should we just send you an invoice for $20,000?’” Hain said. “I said, ‘No.’”

“I think they said they needed $60,000 at the chamber meeting I was at,” Thompson said.

While the commission decided not to approve any monetary commitment, they agreed it was something the city needs.

“I certainly think, though, we would not want to throw the thing under the bus,” Hoffman said. “We do need something.”

According to Hain, the water levels are still dropping in Well 26. In the last few weeks, the levels are getting closer to the 70 percent of the 15-year average, the point where a ban would be automatically implemented. A Nov. 1 ban for non-essential water ban appears to still be approaching.

To start the meeting, the commission approved a resolution supporting Lewis & Clark Regional Water System joint power board funding request.

That request would allow the group to ask the state of Minnesota for $63.9 million on a bonding bill.

“That’s the balance of the Minnesota portion of Lewis & Clark,” Hain said. “This completely puts every piece of pipe in the ground in Minnesota.”

Hain said he thinks the chance of getting all they are asking for is slim.

“The word we are getting from the governor’s office and others at St. Paul, even when we had the initial meeting was the likelihood of getting all of this in one fell swoop is pretty much nil,” Hain said. “However, ask for it and maybe it happens in $20 million increments over the next three bonding bills.”

The Senate bonding tour will be in southwest Minnesota on Oct. 17, while the House of Representatives bonding tour will be in the area on Nov. 7.