WORTHINGTON - The Worthington Public Utilities Water & Light Commission is considering its foray into solar power as local customers continue to inquire about install solar panels on private homes in the community.

The idea of a community solar project has been floated around by WPU staff in the past, but General Manager Scott Hain said during a commission meeting Monday he’d like more input and direction.

During the bidding process for a new Beach Nook, the city of Worthington had incorporated solar into the design. All the bids for the Centennial Park project came in well over budget, however, and the plans were put on hold.

Hain said the original design included 16 roof-mounted solar panels - eight on each the side of the roof. That design would have had panels facing east and west, not a good orientation for maximum solar energy capture. Hain said the panels would be best on a south (lake) facing roof.

Hain told the commission he was asked by Worthington Public Works Director Todd Wietzema if the WPU would be interested in paying for the solar panel project on the Beach Nook, if or when it moves forward.

Another option is to spark up talks again with Nobles County regarding a potential solar project on non-buildable land near the Prairie Justice Center.

“Are we ready to move on something and, if so, what is it?” Hain asked commission members. “Rooftop solar at the Beach Nook is more of a customer-owned distributed type model.

“Is that something we want to do, or do we want to pursue the community solar garden?” he inquired. “I’m looking for direction. How heavily do we want to be involved; is it a priority?”

Commission chairman Gary Hoffman said more cities are doing community solar projects, noting both Moorhead and Detroit Lakes in northern Minnesota.

Hain said there have been some inquiries from homeowners about installing solar panels.

“I told them we would be building a community solar project where people don’t have to put panels on their roof,” he said, adding that there was interest in going that route.

“For a customer, it’s probably going to be cheaper to subscribe to output panel rather than install them on their roofs,” Hain said.

He told commission members now is the time to move and get something built if they want a community solar project.

Commissioner Lyle Ten Haken said he’d like to see WPU do a solar project on both the Beach Nook and out near the PJC.

“The Beach Nook allows us to do our own test pattern. It would give us some real numbers to deal with; maybe some additional metering to achieve those financial results,” Ten Haken said. “We can kind of play with it and experiment. It’s not a big project.”

Hain said if WPU pays for the solar project on the Beach Nook, it should become part of the utility’s portfolio and offset purchases from Missouri River Energy.

“We can call it a Worthington Public Utilities solar project, in which case it’s part of our mix,” Hain said. “Every kilowatt hour that comes from the solar project reduces a kilowatt hour from Missouri River Energy purchased power.

“I can’t tell you that cost of solar kilowatt is going to be cheaper than Missouri River Energy power. It probably will (be more expensive),” he added.

There was some discussion about the cost to individuals who would like to participate in a community solar project, but those details have yet to be worked through.

In the end, there was a consensus among commission members to pursue both community solar projects.