National solar development, EPC and O&M company Conti Solar has built a reputation as a solar construction expert — just don’t try to pigeonhole it to one specific kind of project.
“We do all sorts of different projects, but the big thing we offer is a full turnkey EPC service — whether it’s a landfill or a typical ground-mount or carport,” said CCO Eric Millard. “We’re known for executing projects effectively, and that speaks to why we have a ton of repeat business. Over 50% of the work we put in place is with customers who we’ve done more than two or three projects with.”
A division of 112-year-old construction company The Conti Group, Conti Solar got its start about 12 years ago as an EPC of mid-sized solar projects. Private equity firm Ares EIF took majority ownership of Conti Solar last year, and that financial backing has allowed the solar construction company to continue what it’s doing, but “just doing it bigger and better,” Millard said.
“It’s been a big help for us in terms of our bankability and bonding capacity and financing wherewithal, and they have lots of relationships within the energy industry which has helped bolster our growth plans and strategy as well,” he continued.
Conti Solar currently works in 13 states and is installing upwards of 300 MW each year through utility-scale projects, carports, commercial rooftops and one particular project expertise: capped landfills.
“The Conti Group, going back to our original founders, had a big environmental business. They capped a bunch of landfills and worked on brownfields and Superfund cleanups,” Millard said. “When we first started looking into solar, we thought that was a great parallel. Landfills are an obvious place to put solar.”
Conti’s first solar landfill project was a 3-MW install in New Jersey within PSE&G territory, dedicated in 2012. Conti, then working as SunDurance Energy, used the experience of building not only its first landfill project, but also one of the first in the country, to establish itself as an expert landfill installer.
“Since then, we’ve just developed our skillset and in-house expertise and best practices where we really know how to do it,” Millard said. “We’ve done some of the biggest landfills in the country. The fact that we’ve done it before gives owners a lot of comfort. The last thing they want to be worried about is some sort of environmental liability because their contractor doesn’t know how to properly deal with issues on landfills.”
Conti Solar has just over 100 employees today, and Millard said the company hopes to add 30 more full-time positions by the end of the year. One area of expansion Conti is exploring is within energy storage.
“We just hired a couple of energy storage hires,” Millard said. “We’re excited about the energy storage market. Like a lot of people, we’re trying to figure out where we play and how to make money in energy storage.”
Conti has one energy storage project under its belt — an 800-kW stand-alone battery energy storage system in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, which provides frequency regulation ancillary services to the PJM grid. A few soon-to-be-announced solar-plus-storage projects are in the works, and Milliard said markets like Massachusetts and New York show promise in quick storage development.
“We’re learning a lot, and ultimately our goal is to be able to provide the same level of turnkey support and service to our customers on a storage or solar-plus-storage project compared to what we do on solar-only projects,” he said.
Millard said new state solar incentives within Conti Solar’s core markets will make 2019 a big installation year. Also helping — the stepdown of the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) beginning in 2020.
“We’re seeing people formulate their ITC strategies, whether that’s them wanting to get projects done this year or formulating a safe harbor strategy,” Millard said. “We’re expecting some significant growth this year, and some of that is because some state incentives have started to roll out this year, but a good amount of that is the ITC stepdown.”
There’s also strong promise for Conti Solar in atypical solar states, Millard said.
“As solar build costs come down, we’re starting to see a lot of projects make sense that are not the traditional, heavy incentive states,” he said. “We’ll be building stuff in Texas, Virginia, Florida and some of these other states that are competing on a levelized cost of energy basis and they’re beating out other sources of generation, which is really exciting. We’re seeing that open up a wide array of opportunities in states that weren’t necessarily big solar states in the past.”