A trend in many smaller solar markets throughout the country is for electrical companies to evolve into offering solar installations. The expertise established in electrical work lends itself well to the solar industry — medium-volt cable work, transformer installs, conduit feeding. That’s exactly how John Mills Electric found itself as both a residential solar installer and a large-scale solar electrical subcontractor in the southern tier of central New York.
“A lot of what we do on the solar part of the business is electrical, so it’s work that we do every day and have done for years,” said George Denmark, VP and partial owner of John Mills Electric. “Whether it be on a solar install running conduit and wire or on a school project running conduit and wire, it’s really one and the same.”
John Mills Electric has 75 years of electrical contracting experience in New York state. First known as Cady Electric, John Mills incorporated the business under its new name in 1978. Since then, the company has grown from six employees working on power distribution and factory maintenance work to upwards of 200 completing residential and commercial electrical work, design/build projects and now solar.
“The vision of John Mills Electric is always to stay on the cutting-edge of technology,” Denmark said. “We needed to be diversified and find niche markets that keep us advancing and growing into the future. So about 12 years ago, we learned that the green energy movement was taking place and we needed to be part of that movement.”
The company started as an installation subcontractor in the residential solar market before selling systems itself under the name Twin Tier Solar. The company also performs electrical subcontracting work on large-scale solar projects under the John Mills Electric name.
And John Mills Electric is all-in on solar. The company expanded its headquarters to allow space to pre-assemble solar jobsite materials in a controlled environment.
“With these large solar projects, we found we could build quite a lot of the items inside a conditioned space and not in snowy weather and 15°F and 30 mph winds,” Denmark said. “We could build racks and inverters and string cabling and labeling in a controlled environment and then take it to the field, which helps safety wise and with getting projects done on time.”
Some John Mills Electric electricians have evolved into purely solar installers simply because the company has so much solar work, but Denmark said any employee can step into the solar side of the business if extra help is needed.
“We’re making sure we have our very best employees overseeing every aspect of the project from management to the installation,” he said. “Solar is fundamentally electrical work so all of our employees have done some form of solar work even before they step foot on a site.”
While there is still a nationwide shortage in skilled tradesworkers, John Mills Electric’s involvement in the solar industry makes it an attractive job choice for young electricians.
“We all need to do a better job of educating our young folks that college is not the only avenue to a good career. As the baby boomers retire, we need to backfill the positions,” Denmark said. “Fortunately, we’ve been diversified in all aspects of the field and being part of the apprenticeship training process has helped us provide skilled workers for our solar projects. Most people are aware of climate change and trying to get away from fossil fuels, and there’s folks that probably wouldn’t be electricians if it wasn’t for solar.”
The New York solar market is still growing, and Denmark wants to make sure John Mills Electric has its place. He said more business will come as long as the company keeps up its excellent customer service.
“We put the customers’ needs first, and we need to be known for completing projects on time and within budget,” he said. “John Mills Electric is always striving to be the best, and, as far as I’m concerned, we have the best employees in the office and in the field. Maintaining those standards will keep us a cut above the rest.”