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Leader of Swinerton Renewable Energy speaks on construction, solar projects and warfare logistics

10.28.20

Original article: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/20...

By Eric Wesoff | October 28, 2020

When 130-year old construction company Swinerton moved into the renewable energy business during the financial crisis of 2008, it was with the hope that it could reposition its workforce and “keep people working until we can start building high-rises again,” according to George Hershman, president and employee No. 1 at Swinerton Renewable Energy.

Twelve years later, in a booming utility solar market, Swinerton Renewable Energy is the No. 1 solar engineering procurement and construction (EPC) outfit in the United States in 2019, according to IHS Markit. (No. 2, according to Solar Power World.)

Today the company works on projects such as the 294-MW Muscle Shoals facility in the rapidly growing Southeast solar market and Prospero 2, a 331-MW project in Andrews County, Texas.

“But when we started, small utility projects of 10 MW and 15 MW — those were considered big projects,” Hershman told pv magazine in an interview last week.

100% utility scale

The company has now pivoted to “100% utility scale,” said Hershman, adding, “There is so much volume in the market — we need to focus.”

He said that he has “been around long enough to know that typical construction is inefficient,” adding, “If a construction project was a manufacturing plant, you’d shut it down.”

“We have done a lot to improve that. The top-tier folks, a handful of people in the U.S., have figured out how to work a lot of the fat out of the system. And the barrier to entry is higher than it’s ever been. It’s a much different business today than it was five years ago.”

“We look at a solar project as somewhere between warfare logistics, with thousands of people and trucks driving into the middle of nowhere, and a manufacturing facility. Somewhere between there lies a utility-scale solar project.”

Construction company at heart

“This is no longer just a Western market or a Southwest market,” said the EPC chief. “Our biggest market will be in West Texas in the Permian Basin. And we are starting projects in Illinois, in the upper Midwest — it’s a nationwide industry and job creator — and more than ever, rural.”

Hershman said, “We built our business in the 2008 downturn. Now we’re in the next economic downturn, in an economy that needs well-paid service-level jobs — utility-scale solar is that. We can train displaced oil and gas workers,” adding that coal and fracking workers “have a home in solar.”

As for storage, “Everything in 2022 will have a storage component, the vast majority will have storage in 2021. Everything in California and the West, every contracted asset is going to have storage. We’re seeing the scale go up and cost go down and we understand how to monetize it — it’s here to stay.

“We are a construction company at heart, and we pride ourselves on the ‘E’ side of the EPC, as well. I grew up digging ditches but, with regards to renewables — 100 percent there is no going back for me. At my core I believe in solar for business and environmental reasons. I want to leave the earth better than I found it.”

Some recent Swinerton solar project news of note:

  • The 294-MW Muscle Shoals solar project, recently sold to Ørsted, in the rapidly growing Southeast solar market has a 20-year PPA with the Tennessee Valley Authority. The EPC is Swinerton Renewable Energy. Modules will be First Solar’s Series 6 technology
  • The Prospero 2 Solar Project, a 331-MWdc project in Andrews County, Texas with Swinerton Renewable Energy as EPC and Longroad as developer, owner and operator.
  • Construction on the 215-MW Fresno County Little Bear Solar Project is now underway. Longroad Energy acquired the development project from First Solar last year. Swinerton Renewable Energy was the EPC with Series 6 panels from First Solar, Power Electronics inverters, and trackers from NEXTracker.
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