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PCL launches standalone solar division

IMAGE: Andrew Moles headshot
PCL Construction is broadening its renewable energy business with its newly-formed division PCL Solar. Its ambition is to reach $2 billion of annual new bookings by 2025. (Courtesy PCL Construction)

Building on its increased solar production in 2022, PCL Construction has launched a separate division focused solely on solar manufacturing projects.

PCL Solar will be headed by Andrew Moles as its general manager. His previous title with the company was the director of solar.

PCL Solar will include offices in the U.S., Canada and Australia. It will be responsible for estimating, design, performance analytics, solar-specific technology, project execution and in-house commissioning.

“We've been operating in the solar industry and completing solar projects for a long time, but under our other operating entities . . . With the global transition where it is today and the runway we have in the States with the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), as well as some of the announcements in Canada with the ITC (input tax credits) coming. Then some of the pipeline that we've secured in Australia,” Moles said.

“It just made sense to more formalize it and have it split out from other operating entities and really focused on attracting and retaining people who want long-term careers in renewable energy.”

In a July interview with SustainableBiz, Moles discussed PCL’s 60 per cent increase in solar construction revenue year-over-year, reaching over half a billion dollars in 2021. It also grew from 119 employees to 214 in the same time period.

Headquartered in Edmonton, the group of independent construction companies that make up PCL operate in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Australia. They operate in the civil infrastructure, heavy industrial and buildings markets. Together, these companies have an annual construction volume of more than $7.7 billion.

PCL Solar

Moles joined PCL in 2007 and has been working on solar projects since 2009.

The reasoning behind creating a separate solar division came down to focusing on long-term development of the space.

“I wouldn't say we had a lot of challenges operating under the other structure, per se, but it will certainly allow us to be a little more lean and efficient,” he said. “When we operate under the previous structure, there were multiple decision makers instead of one clear decision maker.”

PCL Solar’s “big, hairy ambitious goal,” or “b-hag” as Moles puts it, is to reach $2 billion in annual new bookings by 2025.

PCL will do 75 per cent of the work on solar projects themselves. Moles singled out Australia as having a “fantastic market” for subcontractors, explaining that the share of what PCL completes itself and what it subcontracts out depends on the geographic region. For example, in Canada it builds its own substations and in the U.S. it uses a subcontractor.

While he did not divulge details, he said PCL has around $1 billion in signed contracts between the beginning of December and Christmas.

Significant solar projects

To date, PCL has worked on over 50 solar, battery energy storage system (BESS) and solar plus BESS projects in the renewable energy industry.

Notable projects include the 239 MW Rayos Del Sol photovoltaic power station in Cameron County, Tex. and the 241 MW Crooked Lake solar farm spread across more than 1,700 acres in Blytheville, Ark.

There is also the Travers solar project in Vulcan County, Alta. When complete, it will offer 692 MW of direct current electricity and 465 MW of alternating current electricity. Costing $700 million, it’s the largest solar facility to be built in Canada, requiring 750 workers to complete. It will cover 3,300 acres and generate enough electricity to power 100,000 homes.

Back in July, Moles called it “impressive on a global scale, not just a Canadian scale.”

The Shakes Solar project in south Texas was recently completed, totalling 270 MW of direct current. The 1,800 acre facility generates enough to power 36,000 homes.

“I've been very cautious because the market is there right now where we could really win almost as much work as you can think about,” Moles said. “We could be at $2 billion tomorrow if we wanted to be, but we need to grow responsibly. Being a business of people in a service business, we have to make sure that we've got the right people in front of the projects, and that they're trained appropriately.”

The future of PCL Solar

In a release, Rodolfo Bitar, business development manager for PCL’s solar operations, anticipates PCL will work on six to eight U.S. solar projects at any given time. That number is expected to increase year-over-year.

The focus is on its established presence in the U.S., Canada and Australia, but Moles did not rule out solar projects in other countries in the future. He mentioned interest in South America, but without a keen push at the time. New Zealand, however, has plenty of interest from both PCL and its clients.

Moles had previously mentioned the development of a team to focus solely on microgrid-style solutions to help individual companies hit their net-zero goals. While it is still on the company’s to-do list, its on the backburner thanks to a busy market, particularly in the U.S.

“If we've got a good client, we have a good relationship with them (and) they asked us to do something, we’ll usually say yes,” he said. “But we're not out there banging on doors saying we want to get into microgrids in a big way right now. Frankly, we’re just too busy in our core market right now.”

PCL is focused on battery energy storage as well, with Moles stating it is has completed six or seven so far. He also promised announcements on new solar projects in January and February, including a “very large” project in Australia.

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