“We are very excited about establishing ourselves in the Australian renewable energy market.”
With tariffs on solar panels taking some sizzle out of that market in 2018, a Chattanooga company says business is heating back up with plans for its biggest-ever project and a push into Australia.
Signal Energy Constructors, which designs and builds utility-scale solar installations, is readying large projects in Texas, Georgia and Australia, said company President Greg Pawson.
The over 600 megawatt array in Texas is the largest the company has ever done and one of the nation's biggest, he said.
"We'll start design this year," Pawson said about the company that's owned by Chattanooga-based construction giant EMJ Corp.
Also, the business founded in 2005 last year opened an office in Australia, where it's working on what will be the biggest solar array in that country, he said.
Signal Energy has been picked to build a 333 megawatt solar plant in New South Wales, Pawson said.
That installation will produce enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 115,000 homes and displace more than 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, the company said.
Signal Energy opened the Sydney, Australia office last year amid a downturn in business partly prompted by President Donald Trump's imposition of a 30 percent tariff on solar panel imports.
Roughly $8 billion worth of utility-scale solar projects have been killed or delayed, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
Signal Energy revenues were off last year, though the company's president declined to provide numbers.
"Revenue didn't grow last year. We pivoted," said Pawson. "The U.S. market slowing gave us an opportunity to move into Australia. We found solutions. Now is the most exciting time in our history."
He said the company has more than $1 billion worth of business booked right now lasting over the next two and half years, and more will be added.
"The market is there," Pawson said.
Julian B. Bell III, Signal Energy's executive vice president, said the market has "absorbed" the disruptions and demand is higher for solar, which accounts for about 90 percent of the company's renewable energy work. The remainder is wind power.
Signal Energy, which has less than 100 employees with half of those in Chattanooga, expects to ramp up its workforce this year. By the end of 2019, Signal expects to have about 200 people, including project teams, and add up to 25 employees in Chattanooga, Pawson said.
Bell said the company's culture calls for giving employees a lot of responsibility, even the new ones.
"Even entry-level employees, they get so much responsibility," he said.
Pawson, 43, who joined Signal Energy in 2008 at an entry-level job and has worked his way up to the president's post, also cited company culture.
"We harness creative energy," he said. "Creativity for us is finding solutions. It's a very dynamic culture."
Bell, who joined Signal shortly after it was started, said corporate customers are driving demand for solar power from the utilities. In addition to being economical, larger companies have a social profile and are interested in sustainability, he said.
"Long-term, it's better for the environment," said Bell.
In Australia, within one year, Signal Energy garnered two large-scale projects, officials said.
The first involves building a 175 megawatt solar facility in New South Wales. Signal Energy is partnering with Canadian Solar, which will supply the solar modules for the construction of the project. The second, also partnering with Canadian Solar, is about twice the size.
While Signal Energy has worked in Canada before, this is the company's first overseas foray.
"We are very excited about establishing ourselves in the Australian renewable energy market," said Pawson.
Construction on the first project started in last December and will be complete in 2019. The second installation will begin in March with completion in 2020.
The Texas project involves installing solar panels over 3,500 acres, Pawson said. Another in South Georgia will be one of the biggest such solar projects in that state at more than 150 megawatts, he said.
Signal also builds high-voltage substations and transmissions lines to connect to the nation's power grid.
The company president said officials are looking at other ventures, such as the battery storage business.
"Solar only works when the sun is out," he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.