Let the Sun Shine In

Johnnie Taul explains how DEPCOM Power expands solar energy and empowers local communities

“It was quite a surprise when we spotted our first alligator on-site,” recalls Johnnie Taul, chief operating officer of DEPCOM Power, with a laugh.

Traditionally, utility-scale solar power in the United States has been concentrated in the sun-drenched Southwest, meaning that most solar power companies don’t have to contend with giant aquatic reptiles. DEPCOM Power, however, has rapidly expanded into new regions in the United States during its brief company history to deliver reliable, low-cost, utility-scale solar power to more of the country.

One of the organization’s recent project developments took place in Mississippi. The DEPCOM team faced excessive rainfall and muddy conditions, which led not only to having to manage a difficult construction site, but also the obstacle of dealing with those gators.

“The occasional alligator made it a unique project, but our team quickly adapted our construction processes and equipment strategies to safely transform the site in a matter of weeks,” Taul says.

That success story is one of many for DEPCOM, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based organization that constructs projects across the United States from California to Connecticut. Taul credits that successful growth, in large part, to due diligence, preparedness, and the teamwork of its highly experienced staff.

He attributes DEPCOM’s exponential growth over the last few years to many key qualities of the company. In addition to its intelligent planning, DEPCOM offers what Taul sees as equally essential drivers in the changing energy mix in the United States: competitive pricing and a strong execution track record.

“Every project runs on time and on budget with high-quality and strong performance,” he says. “All done in-house, we do development support; engineering procurement and construction (EPC); and operations and maintenance. And we have an intense focus on customer service. Our core values are all centered on doing the right thing for our customers, shareholders, employee-owners, and suppliers.”

In addition to the recent project in Mississippi, Taul and his team have also faced unique challenges in Idaho and North Carolina. In the former, they constructed a 55-megawatt project with subsurface rock conditions in the midst of a bitter Idaho winter—the exact opposite of the conditions in Arizona. The North Carolina project, meanwhile, began just as Hurricane Matthew struck the coast. The storms battered the region and left many individuals in dire circumstances. But DEPCOM’s founding ethos ensured that it would leave the communities surrounding its project in better shape than when the organization arrived.

“At our very core, we believe that we’re called to give back to those in need,” Taul says. “There are three ways that we benefit the communities that we work in. One is philanthropy, where we find the greatest needs in the community and then use our time, talent, and monetary donations to help. The second is employment, where we hold local job fairs and work to employ as much local labor and veteran hires as possible. The third is sourcing of local services. We work to source as many project-related services in the local city and county where projects are located.”

By the end of 2017, DEPCOM anticipates donating more than $2 million. Taul describes a recent project in
New Mexico in which the construction occurred in an impoverished area of the state. “Each project creates hundreds of construction jobs, and in New Mexico, over
90 percent of the workforce was hired locally,” he says. “We worked directly with the county officials to identify all the available services that the county had to offer to ensure the economic benefit remained local.”

DEPCOM has given back to many more communities, thanks in part to the country’s growing acceptance and adoption of solar power. While the alternative energy source first rose to prominence through government subsidies and regulatory renewable portfolio standards, it quickly became clear that solar is a reliable alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power. It is also a lower-cost energy source. “The utility-scale solar market has matured,” Taul says. “It’s innovated and evolved to be a low-cost, reliable, and clean source of power.”

A founding member of the organization, Taul is proud of DEPCOM’s quick growth.

“I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to lead some of the first and some of the largest utility-scale solar projects in the world,” he says about his time prior to joining DEPCOM. “I am convinced that utility-scale solar will be a primary source for the United States’ future energy mix. It’s been a privilege for me to work alongside extremely talented individuals in the industry and to be part of the innovation that has significantly driven down the cost to the consumer.”

In fact, every decision originates with a foundation of doing the right thing for the customer—something that Taul sees as a leadership mantra. The company was built with lean overhead and agility in mind, keeping everything in-house so that markup is not passed on to customers. Unlike other EPC companies, DEPCOM focuses solely on utility-scale solar, meaning that it recruits top talent in the industry and is laser-focused on bringing the highest quality to its customers.

“Our mission statement is that we want to be the best in the utility-scale solar industry,” Taul says. “That’s not necessarily a metric of size, revenue, or volume. It’s just offering the absolute best services to our customers and serving those customers, our employees, and shareholders in the best way that we can.”

Taul also credits CEO Jim Lamon’s leadership as a major driving force in ensuring all of those sound intentions are actualized. In addition, each employee of DEPCOM is a part-owner, which fosters a spirit of teamwork and innovation. The utility-scale solar industry is rapidly growing, and DEPCOM combines continuous technology improvements, continuous cost reduction, and community stewardship to be a true industry leader. Thanks to these principles, Taul sees a bright future ahead for solar power in general, and DEPCOM specifically.

“At less than 4 cents/kWh, I expect virtually every state in the US will have a meaningful portion of utility-scale solar generation as part of their energy mix 10 years from now,” he says. “We’re proud to be one of the top utility-scale solar EPC companies in the country and to do our part to deliver reliable, low-cost clean energy from coast to coast.”

GIVING BACK

Beyond providing a safe and reliable alternative energy source, DEPCOM Power provides many other benefits to communities across the country. In fact, the organization has dedicated about 10 percent of the net income from each of its projects to serve the needs of the local communities where the company works.

To date, DEPCOM has supported more than 100 organizations. Chief Operating Officer Johnnie Taul notes that he’s particularly proud that DEPCOM supports the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

“The organization ensures full financial assistance for post-secondary degrees and offers family and educational counseling to surviving children of army, navy, air force, and marine corps special operations personnel killed in the line of duty,” Taul explains.

Another valuable example is the Idaho Youth Ranch, a statewide, multi-service agency that offers emergency shelter, residential care, job readiness training, alternative education, adoption services, counseling, and more for at-risk children and their families in the region.

DEPCOM seeks out organizations that align with its corporate values and focuses its philanthropy on supporting youth and education initiatives, assisting veterans, supporting the underprivileged, and sponsoring energy-related initiatives. Through this commitment to helping others, DEPCOM continues to make a difference in communities throughout the United States.