Clouds part for solar panel project

A plan to put solar panels on public housing, such as the Broadway Haus apartment complex, was approved at Tuesday’s EDA meeting. It had initially been tabled due to a bidding error in November.

NEW ULM — The clouds parted for a plan to put solar panels on public housing, as a bid was approved at an Economic Development Authority meeting Tuesday.

The project had originally been awarded to Wolf River Electric for $319,695 at the Nov. 14 EDA meeting. That was until an error was discovered, as the bid was not solicited under the necessary sealed bid process.

If a project costs over $175,000, state statute requires bids be sent in and sealed until they’re unveiled to the public. No talking between vendors or between a vendor and staff concerning a sealed bid is allowed. Because this was not followed, the project was tabled.

The correct process was carried out and two bids were received. Wolf River Electric submitted a bid identical to their previous one. Housing Coordinator Heather Bregel said Zinniel Electric’s submitted bid was instead a request for the project to be re-bid.

“They requested that we be more specific in our bid documents and rebid the project,” she said “In talking with the city engineer, city attorney, and city manager, we all agreed we followed the state statute requirements. We did not see the need to go out and rebid the project.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, Wolf River Electric representative Chad Chambers said the price for this project would be costly, but the city will save around $550,000 in energy costs over 30 years.

“On every single property, there’s an electric meter,” Chambers said, “As tenants use energy, the meter [moves forward] like the odometer in a car. Once we install the solar panels, all the energy the solar panels produce is sent back into the meter and causes it to move backward. What’s left over at the end of the month is the net difference; that’s what has to be paid for.”

New Ulm is currently projected to spend $1.3 million in energy costs on just public housing in the next 30 years, according to Wolf River’s estimates. But Chambers said this is a conservative estimate. A new plan passed by the state legislature could bring these numbers higher, making the solar energy project a worthwhile investment.

“It is my opinion the [energy cost rates] are going to start increasing much quicker,” Chambers said. “Part of the reason is last year, our governor [mandated] all the energy produced by our utility companies be 100% carbon-free by the year 2040. Two other states in the US have signed similar bills, California and Massachusetts. After they signed these bills, their rates doubled in about three years. That is significantly faster than the [current] rate.”

EDA member Andrea Boettger asked Bregel if having to re-bid would change the timeline for completing the project, which Chambers had estimated as three to five months. Bregel said it would not.

Reception to the project was positive when initially considered. Now that the correct bidding process has been used, Councilman Les Schultz said the EDA was ready to get the ball rolling.

“I know we were all supportive last month on this project and we’d like to see it keep moving,” he said.

Schultz made the motion to accept the bid from Wolf River Electric, which EDA member Char Kalk seconded. The next EDA meeting is on Jan. 9, 2024, at 8 a.m.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today