Nature center chooses contractor for solar power

Published 10:36 am Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Jay C. Hormel Nature Center is powering ahead with it’s plan to install solar energy for its $7 million interpretive center project.

On Wednesday, the Austin Park & Rec Board approved a $155,353 bid from Viking Electric of Spring Grove, the low bidder, to install a roughly 80 kilowatt solar energy unit later this year.

The solar energy is one of the key examples of sustainable practices being built into the new interpretive center, which is slated to open next year. Along with solar energy, the center will feature a cistern to collect water from the roof, geothermal heating and cooling, and rain garden south of the building.

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Viking Electric’s $155,353 bid was below the $175,000 budget for the project and far below the other bids, which ranged from $214,000 to $220,000 from Albert Lea Electric, Fox Electric of Austin and Solar Connections of Rochester.

Larry Dolphin

Larry Dolphin

Director/Naturalist Larry Dolphin admitted they questioned the difference in bids at first; however, an engineer working on the nature center project toured the Minnesota company that will produce the solar unit and was impressed.

“We feel good about that, and we feel good about the lower bid,” Dolphin said.

Dolphin and Riverland Community College’s Steve Vietor, who is slated to help with the installation, also looked at a unit from the Minnesota company at Albert Lea Seed House and were impressed by what they learned.

“They said this is a really good system,” Dolphin said.

The unit will be assembled in Minnesota, with about two-thirds of the parts coming from the state and the cells coming from China, according to Dolphin.