GRATON – Electrical and general contractor Warren Brown sees brighter prospects for his 14-year-old construction company in designing and installing solar electricity systems and is shifting his focus to that market.
Warren Brown Construction has been getting increasingly involved with photovoltaic projects since 2001, but the pace toward a shift to entirely focus on commercial, municipal and agricultural solar projects increased last year, according to Mr. Brown.
[caption id="attachment_21789" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Warren Brown Construction and One Sun have designed and/or installed large photovoltaic systems around the Bay Area and Northern California, including this project at First Northern Bank in Sacramento."][/caption]
"We've been able in the last few years to develop efficiencies and scale of execution," he said. "We have workers that PV is all they do, as opposed to an electrical contractor doing a lot of different activities such as replacing light fixtures and wiring."
Last year was particularly tough for electrical contractors as commercial projects were put on the back burner because of the economy. Warren Brown Construction avoided layoffs by diving into remodeling and renovations.
The construction company isn't shutting down, Mr. Brown said. Rather, employees are being moved into commercial photovoltaic project work in a newly formed company called One Sun.
One Sun has 25 employees set to work on three new projects and could have a total of 60 employees working on about 4 megawatts worth of projects.
Three new projects, all in the Sebastopol area, are a 500-kilowatt system for Redwood Hill Farms' dairy production facility, a nearly 400-kilowatt array for Manzana Products Co. and projects at the city of Santa Rosa's Brown Farm.
Projects recently completed include a nearly 600-kilowatt array for Bay Area Beverage Co. in Richmond and a total of 291 kilowatts at four First Northern Bank locations in Sacramento.
[caption id="attachment_21790" align="alignleft" width="324" caption="Brown Construction taking on three new projects, seeing growth"][/caption]
Mr. Brown formed One Sun, at one time called Solar By Design, with Peter Renfro, who is general manager. Since the late 1980s Mr. Renfro has been in process solutions for the mortgage industry and also worked on installation of large photovoltaic systems for the companies. One role was as part of the CoGenSys Judgment Systems team that created the Loan Prospector automated mortgage underwriting system for Freddie Mac.
Bidding on solar projects is slightly less competitive, with about a half-dozen vying for the projects rather than as many as 30 for general or specialty contracting jobs, according to Mr. Brown.
"We like to take on projects that are more demanding structurally and involve integrating the system into existing buildings because we have experience with construction," he said.
Warren Brown Construction and now One Sun have used the design-build method and construction experience to know how to cost-effectively maximize the surface area of buildings that can structurally accommodate photovoltaic panels with and without upgrades.
Solar contracting, ranging from just installation to design-build, is becoming a hot area of construction because of government incentives for residents and businesses to install systems, such as tax credits, power-purchase agreements with utilities and property-tax-based financing.