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Friday, Dec 8, 2023

ENERGY: Vista Company Installs System at County Center; Structure Part of SDG&E’s Sustainable Communities Program


CEO: Linda Strand.

Financial information: Would not disclose.

No. of local employees: 35-75, depending on the amount of work under way.

Investors: Self-funded.

Headquarters: Vista.

Year founded: 1998.

Company description: Solar energy development and construction company.

Independent Energy Solutions Inc. recently completed installation of a 358 kilowatt solar electric system, resting atop 24 steel structures, that overshadows the parking lot at the $500 million County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa.

The system, funded and owned by San Diego Gas & Electric Co., becomes the largest such structure on county property, and another feather in the cap of privately held, Vista-based IES, a design-build construction company specializing in solar projects for 13 years.

IES’ latest project is part of the electric utility’s Sustainable Communities Program, which integrates green energy generation capabilities into private and public building projects.

There are 24 such projects within SDG&E’s service area, said spokeswoman April Bolduc.

She said the most recent project, which included energy savings measures added to the new buildings and other structures in the center, will save the county $265,000 annually on its electric bill. 

The utility, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, declined to release the cost of building the solar system.

The nearly 2,000 solar panels will generate enough electricity to power 107 average-sized homes.

“When we started, the rebates were pretty darn good, 50 percent from the State of California,” said IES Chief Executive Officer Linda Strand. “Oddly enough, we were doing a lot of Third World countries 13 and one-half years ago.”

Not Just for Granola-Crunchers

She said what’s different today compared with a decade ago is that everyone is “renewable conscious.”

“It’s on the forefront of everyone’s mind,” she said. “The typical customer then was a granola-crunching, really green-thinking people. Today, everybody’s mindful of energy conservation.”

The company won the bidding on the Operations Center against a half-dozen other competitive firms, businesses that have been prequalified to bid by the utility.

“It’s a very exacting process,” Strand said. She is assisted in the business by her husband, Troy Strand, who serves as chief technical adviser.

On regular commercial jobs, she said that she could run up against dozens of competitors, a number that keeps growing as solar energy projects become more popular.

“Thirteen years ago, there was just me and four or five competing companies, but today it’s like me and a hundred other companies” competing for business, she said. “Even garage door installers are doing solar.”

Big Projects

IES’ largest installation was for a 1.5 megawatt rooftop solar panel collector system for an office structure in Irvine. It is the largest solar system in Orange County.

The company also recently completed a 1 megawatt project on the rooftop of a new federal government office building in Laguna Niguel, the second-largest solar project in the county.

And IES was one of two contractors that installed an 856 kilowatt roof mounted photovoltaic system at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.

In the next five years, Strand said she will be targeting projects on area military and government installations, as well as commercial projects. The military is especially important for IES, as the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps upgrade their aging facilities and add green energy components.

In January, IES was officially designated as a woman-owned business enterprise by the California Public Utilities Commission, certification that gives it certain advantages when bidding on solar projects from utilities in the state.

But she said that the company still has to do the work at the highest levels of professionalism or it won’t be invited to bid on future projects.

Seeking Further Growth

Independent Energy Solutions is also looking at international markets as a key source of growth. The company last year installed a solar power system at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda.

“Our sweet spot is projects involving one to five megawatts,” Strand said. “We used to say 13 years ago that 5 kilowatt was a big job. So, we’ve grown.”

SDG&E’s Bolduc said everything went smoothly during the construction phase of the solar project at the County Operations Center.

Bolduc said surrounding homes and businesses will benefit, as the energy generated will be fed to the grid. It’s all part of the utility’s effort to meet state goals that require 33 percent of its generation capacity come from green sources.

“It was a natural fit for us,” she said.

Tom York is a contributing editor for the San Diego Business Journal.


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