Black & Veatch is a legacy construction company that prides itself on embracing change and new technologies. Although it started in fossil fuel development, the company pivoted to EPC work for solar, storage and now green hydrogen in the 2010s. The company built a Florida solar project that made national headlines last year for keeping one community running during Hurricane Ian.
An edited portion of this Contractor’s Corner interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for more insight on using solar apprenticeships to build the clean energy workforce.
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SPW: Black & Veatch has been around for a long time with a very long history of construction work. Can you tell me a little bit about its journey to solar?
Ben Anderson, project manager at Black & Veatch: Black & Veatch has been around for over 100 years now, a very long-term company that’s done a lot in the power business. We were very big into coal when coal was the king of power generation. [The company stopped building coal projects in 2018]. Renewables, for us, is relatively new in the overall company history. I personally joined the renewables group in 2015, which was really the beginning of us getting into the main EPC space. We have a very strong engineering background and had done a lot of studies and overall engineering services associated with renewables and solar, and we have a hydro business as well. We look at renewables now as one of our main pillars of the company here, solar being a big piece of what we look at doing every year from a business perspective.
I did notice that Black & Veatch is actually building a few massive solar projects for oil and gas companies. So you’ve kind of kept that background going to bring those companies into the future a little bit.
Yeah, we really center ourselves around more technology solutions rather than specific clientele. We try to provide answers to the problems that they have. Over the past year, we’ve seen a big uptick in the oil and gas market of new players wanting to get into power generation, into renewables and solar, as they have their own green initiatives. We’ve been a good partner with them over the years associated with a lot of oil and gas work that we’ve done and are helping a lot of those guys make the transition over to renewables and solar. It’s always interesting, because they bring an oil and gas mindset, and there’s a lot of Solar 101 training that you end up doing with new clients.
What would you say is the most unique project you’ve worked on?
I’ve been privileged to be on a job that we’ve done two rounds now with. There is a community down in Florida called Babcock Ranch — they had built their community around a concept of, ‘Hey, this is what we think the future may look like for a community, if you start with certain guiding principles at the beginning, one of them being completely carbon neutral.’ We built two rounds of solar plants. We built one back in 2016, when they were very, very new in their overall build. And then I got to go back again in 2018 and really see the growth of Babcock Ranch, how many people had moved in and how they built their community. They really started with the end in mind.
Was that the community that survived the latest hurricane season and came out unscathed?
The hurricane came through and the solar field that we built was what was helping power them. They had a big battery storage unit installed there, too. So while everybody else around them didn’t have any power, they were set. They had built flooding mitigation into their overall concept planning, and it survived the hurricane last year as it went right through. I don’t think anyone on their site expected it to do as well as it did. And we were all very excited to see that.
Talk to me a little bit about how the IRA is impacting Black & Veatch as a large EPC. Are you working on new prevailing wage and apprenticeship initiatives?
We are working a lot of different discussions with individual states about apprenticeship programs — how we’d run, operate and maintain those. We’ve gotten to the point now where I think we feel comfortable that we have a pretty defined way of handling this. But it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more work than it was before. But we see it as an opportunity to grow our professionals more than we have in the past and we’re leaning into that.
We really are trying to find the right candidates to put into the apprenticeship program to meet the requirements, but it also gives them the opportunity to grow and expand their careers. The intent here is to get more qualified technicians, more qualified people out in the field, because we need a lot of them. It’s good for everybody in the industry for people like us and other companies of our size that are working together to try to really implement this and be frontline partners with the states to get this through and make sure that we’re training the next generation of the workforce.