Solar installation projects keeping contractors busy

Northern Nevada general contractors who've been hard pressed to find work this summer have found a boon in a handful of photovoltaic installation projects for the Washoe County School District.

Companies such as Nelson Electric, Frank Lepori Construction and United Construction all landed solar installation projects at Washoe County schools. Work is expected to be completed this summer.

Robbie Nelson, head estimator for Nelson Electric, says his company has been taking a much closer look at solar projects. Nelson Electric won three solar contracts.

"They are fairly important. It is work when there really isn't a lot of other work," Nelson says. "We will employ six to eight guys that we don't have to lay off."

Harrison Herrera, project manager for Frank Lepori Construction, says Lepori staff has invested in training to gain accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council, sponsor of the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification system, to help pursue solar projects.

"As a company we are aware of the importance of being on the cutting edge of the latest trends, technology and being knowledgeable in where our industry is heading," Herrera says. "Whether or not we had been awarded the recent photovoltaic projects, we would be pursuing business in solar and green construction."

Herrera says that keeping workers busy, especially with the region's lack of vertical construction, is a priority for Lepori Construction.

"The timing of these projects, with the help of stimulus money, was perfect," he says. "These projects fuel the local economy by keeping local companies and employees working."

United Construction also landed three solar projects, but the company's president and chief executive officer says work will be subbed out to experts in the field. Installing a photovoltaic system at the new WMS Gaming facility in South Meadows was United's first real solar installation project.

"These are projects we are partnering with solar companies to bring expertise on both sides of the fence," says United exec Craig Willcut.

United, which made its mark in the area building tilt-up warehouses, also is taking a harder look at the solar field, Willcut adds.

"It is something we made a conscious effort to pursue," he says. "Solar definitely is going to become more prevalent in projects there never is going to be a lack of sun.

That is why we are partnering with companies that know the business. We are not just taking this on to keep busy because you can easily do it wrong."

Reid Hamilton, principal with Hamilton Solar, says installation of solar systems isn't rocket science, but companies with experience in the field can save organizations money through cost-effective design.

Though Hamilton didn't win any of the recent Washoe County photovoltaic projects, it has picked up work for the Carson City and Pershing County school districts.

Hamilton Solar is installing a 300-kilowatt solar project in Lovelock that provides covered parking with solar on top for the school district. Hamilton recently hired eight employees and has grown from a total of six employees just 18 months ago to close to 25 today. Hamilton expects to double its workforce in coming months with additional solar projects.

"Green jobs are really what is bringing the workforce back," Reid Hamilton says.

New employees aren't necessarily solar experts, he adds, but most have well-rounded construction backgrounds. Employees must earn photovoltaic certification from OSHA, as well as complete the mandatory 10- or 30-hour OSHA safety training.

Associated Builders and Contractors provided training for Hamilton's new employees, and Hamilton Solar provides additional on-the-job training. The company recently moved from smallish digs in the Spanish Springs Business Center to a 5,500-square-foot warehouse in South Meadows. Reid Hamilton expects to quickly outgrow that space as well.

Cliff Springmeyer, president of Western Pacific Electric, has landed many small solar projects in the past, but his company currently is working on several large private solar projects on federal land in northern and southern Nevada. Western Pacific Electric has hired 14 men to ramp up for the work and seeks fill an additional five to six positions.

"We feel very fortunate that we have been able to land some of these solar jobs," Springmeyer says. "We were pretty busy to begin with, but it has been huge to us to pick this work up, and it has helped our company a lot. It has kept us going through tough times."

Western Pacific has put 10 employees through photovoltaic training offered by ABC Sierra Nevada, and Springmeyer says many will receive further training to get national accreditation in photovoltaic installation.

"There will be ongoing training on all this stuff," he says.


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