Rosendin Electric is celebrating a major milestone this year: 100 years in business. The company was founded by Moses Rosendin in San Jose, California, in 1919, to service rural and agricultural communities with wiring and extending utility lines. The company survived the Great Depression and World War II to eventually incorporate in California in 1953. Almost 50 years later, Rosendin became 100% employee-owned and today has revenues upwards of $2 billion.
“In my 38 years working in the electrical industry, working for a company where each employee as an owner has a vested interest in making sure each of us is successful is pretty rewarding and refreshing to say the least,” said David Lincoln, VP of Rosendin’s renewable energy group.
That individual interest in the success of the company led Rosendin to enter the solar industry in 2009. Already active in providing electrical subcontracting services to the wind industry and transmission development, Lincoln said the company found a new area to excel in: commercial and distributed generation solar projects.
“Our first year, we had revenues about $3 million, and when we completed a 500-kW system, we thought that was big. Then we secured a 1-MW project, and we were in the big leagues and popping corks,” he said. “After the second year, I presented a business plan, and we just took off running. Over the years, it’s been a hockey stick growth path with our biggest year having revenues over $500 million.”
Rosendin’s extensive electrical background actually led the company to the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) route on utility-scale solar projects.
“When we look at a solar project as a whole, the majority of the project is the electrical base. A utility-scale project, for example, 85% is electrical, the rest is civil and concrete and fencing,” Lincoln said. “Our clients looked at us and said, ‘Why don’t you take on that prime role and be the general contractor or EPC [for] the remaining 15% of the work?’ So, we just morphed into this EPC role here.”
The solar industry is the only vertical market where Rosendin functions as a full contractor, building a project from start to finish. Lincoln said the company’s 100 years of general electrical construction experience allows it to consistently rank as a Top 10 solar EPC.
“When you consider the largest diversified design-build electrical contractor in the country having been around 100 years, that represents an immense amount of organizational electrical activity and expertise and experience,” Lincoln said. “We leverage that competitive advantage all the time. We’re good at reading the market, where it’s going to be and how to diversify enough to make sure we’ve got the right resources and people in place.”
Rosendin’s renewable energy group employs about 150 people, including engineers, project managers and foremen, but Lincoln said at various points in the company’s solar project schedule, there have been more than 1,500 tradespeople added to that number. Rosendin hires directly from labor union IBEW to ensure a skilled workforce.
“When we hire an educated workforce, the amount of people you’re hiring is less than if you’re just hiring off the street,” Lincoln said. “We try to meet quarterly with the unions and let them know what we’re looking at. We just don’t look at solar; we look at what else is going on in the economy. Are there any big data centers being built in remote locations that take up a tremendous amount [of labor]? There are a lot of variables that come into play here, but because we are discussing regularly with IBEW and forecasting out the labor, they’re very proactive about ensuring that they do have the resources and the personnel available.”
As utility-scale solar construction gets heavier while projects try to get the investment tax credit before its drop-off in 2022, Lincoln foresees a labor challenge in remote areas that are prime solar locations.
“In Texas right now, we’re seeing a boom in solar for 2019 to 2022, especially in large-scale projects 200-MW and larger. Many of these projects are so remote that they require man-camps to be set up, and many of these projects are located within a 50-mile radius of each other,” he said. “I’m not sure if a lot of developers realize that this will be a potential problem when they executed their PPA and put their budgets together — it raises the cost. You could run the risk that the project [50 miles] down the road is paying a couple dollars more an hour, and all of a sudden your labor force is diminished.”
Keeping in mind that the ITC will eventually disappear, Lincoln said it’s the EPC’s responsibility to constantly look for ways to reduce costs. Rosendin is working on improving supply chain expenses and finding design innovations — things like discussing with inverter manufacturers to make more cost-effective skids and dedicating time to understanding the latest battery configurations and technologies. Electric vehicle infrastructure is something the company sees as an increased area of play.
“We’re just trying to set ourselves apart from our competition, being ahead of the curve,” Lincoln said.
Rosendin is planning ahead to the next 100 years. The renewable energy group will open a Maryland office this year to handle East Coast work and expand its EPC expertise to more areas.
“We really do offer a turnkey solution to our clients, and we’re finding that’s what they’re looking for — somebody that is just one stop, one face, one point of contact,” Lincoln said. “We like to think that’s our specialty.”
By Kelly Pickerel