Utility-scale contractor translates wind expertise to growing solar market

Infrastructure and Energy Alternatives (IEA) is a major force in heavy civil construction. Through its subsidiary White Construction, the company is consistently battling with market leader Mortenson for the top wind power EPC in the country. It’s really no surprise that after constructing well over 23 GW of wind projects across the United States and Canada, IEA thought it was time to get more invested in the solar industry.

Joe Broom, senior VP of solar, said IEA (No. 19 on the 2022 Top Solar Contractors list) had worked on solar projects in the past, mostly in Canada, but the focus shifted in 2019 to the expanding US market.

“[IEA] had dabbled in solar, but wind was their bread and butter,” he said. “The board made a strategic decision to target other renewable segments, notably solar. They gave me a five-year annual operating plan and we basically met that in Year 3. The solar market, despite all of the challenges, remains very robust because there aren’t enough quality EPCs in the market to handle all of the work that’s in the queue.”

IEA initially took on projects under 100 MW to “get the confidence back up,” Broom said. Today, the company is more streamlined, only working with two or three component suppliers to fully learn effective installation processes to finish projects efficiently and quickly. IEA is now bidding on much larger projects and keeping very busy.

“One quarter this year, our solar revenues were on par with the wind revenues,” Broom said. “It’s not surprising to me, but I think [to others at IEA]it’s kind of a shock to the system,” especially since wind contracts are staying steady even though the United States is transitioning to an offshore construction market.

While Broom describes White Construction’s dominance in the wind construction market as something the company fell into after subcontracting on an early wind farm, the company’s rise in the solar charts is working according to plan.

“When we went public [in 2018], it gave us an opportunity to bring in board members with skill sets and expertise in other industries. That’s the strategy: to not put all your eggs in one basket, to look at other segments — solar being a perfect example,” he said. “We’ve also started a battery storage practice, so we’re planting seeds. We’re doing a lot organically to broaden our growth into renewables, not just specifically wind.”

Broom said one of the advantages of working with a large company is leveraging its workforce.

“That is one of the top constraints in the market — the availability of labor. We already have a labor force on the wind side that we can easily cycle through on the solar side,” he said. “While labor is a challenge, and of course we would like to pull in as many local hires as we can on these projects, we still have a good abundance of labor within our current ranks that we can leverage. That’s been the secret sauce as to why we’ve been able to make the pivot and grow so rapidly.”

While solar may be a stronger focus for IEA right now, the company is not forgetting about wind.

“Internally, there’s still a tremendous amount of excitement on wind,” Broom said. “Every week we go through the opportunities for wind and solar, and sure, wind may be getting a little tougher but there are still opportunities out there. I don’t think we’ve reduced the amount of bidding effort on the wind side. But we’ve certainly amped up the bidding effort on the solar side.”

This story was featured exclusively in our 2022 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top US solar installers here.

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