Five That Thrive: ARRA Projects

Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed on Feb. 17, 2009, by President Obama, $787 billion in federal stimulus funds went to state and local governments and military bases. In San Diego, which became a major hub of military and defense activity during World War II, the stimulus funds financed alternative-energy installations at many of its bases. Area cities benefitted as well. Several area electrical contractors garnered ARRA contracts in which they not only functioned as subcontractors but also as prime contractors.

Dynalectric San Diego
“Two of our projects were 90 percent electrical, so we were the prime,” said Bob Riel, vice president, Dynalectric, San Diego. “Our roles were reversed. The guys we usually work with were subcontractors to us.”

Founded in 1970, Dynalectric San Diego, an EMCOR company, had three ARRA projects. Through the Department of Defense, the company received a $2.3 million contract for the replacement of existing parking lot lights and installation of new ones at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (MCAS). The new lights—which are solar powered and placed on 20-foot poles that hold approximately 500 pounds of batteries, photovoltaic (PV) panels and other associated equipment—will continue to operate even after six rainy or cloudy days. The poles had to be engineered to withstand the wind loading for the area. In addition, Dynalectric replaced metal halide walkway lights on pathways of seven bachelor enlisted quarters (BEQs) with high-efficiency, solar-powered LED lights that are powered by new solar arrays.

Dynalectric San Diego was also the prime contractor for the Department of the Navy on a $1.7 million project that began this summer. The project entailed construction of carport structures topped by PV systems.

“They provide shade for cars and solar panels that provide new electricity,” Riel said.

A third ARRA project through the Department of Commerce was for $3.1 million.

Synergy Electric Co.
Synergy Electric Co. Inc., Santee, Calif., a Women’s Business Enterprise certified with Caltrans, was founded in 1990 by president Diane Keltner, who is the sole owner and shareholder. The company was the prime contractor on six ARRA projects, ranging from $692,000 to $9.4 million.

Synergy self-performed 88 percent of the work on the full engineering, procurement, installation and testing of the Box Canyon PV System, a solar power generating facility with a minimum peak clean power production of 1.5 megawatts, which provides enough electricity to power 400 homes. It wasn’t your ordinary solar-power system installation, since it was installed on the site of the Box Canyon inactive landfill on the Camp Pendleton base in San Diego County, the major West Coast base of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“The land couldn’t be used for anything because of environmental concerns, so it was decided to build a solar array on top of it,” said Jerry Zapata, project manager, Synergy Electric Co. The system covers 6 acres and includes more than 6,000 solar panels that were attached to frames anchored by massive concrete blocks, which Synergy set in beds of gravel on the ground.

“It was challenging because the design had to incorporate a lot of different things so the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] would sign off on it, and because, once it was covered up, you wouldn’t be able to dig in the ground,” Zapata said.

Synergy’s other project at Camp Pendleton was a $4.5 million communications project called Replace Communication Cables on Ranges. It entailed installation of telephone and fiber optic cable from the foot to the top of a mountain. Synergy had to trench an 8-mile-long, 3-foot-deep, 1-foot-wide space along a road and up the slope of the mountain.

“The first part of the project was easy because it was a dirt road,” Zapata said. “The second and difficult part was getting the communications equipment up a winding, asphalt road, with big rocks, to the top of a mountain.”

To do that, Synergy’s crew followed a machine that trenched and placed the pipe. A truck followed to pour cement to cover the pipe. Another crew followed and put dirt on top of the cement.

“The problem was that we couldn’t get full loads of cement,” Zapata said, adding that 9 yards of cement was needed. “In this case, the truck could only carry 7 yards because, if it had more, it would have poured out of the chute because of the steepness of the road.”

Synergy also performed two PV installations. One was a $3.9 million project at the Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI) at the north end of the Coronado peninsula on San Diego Bay.

It called for reroofing a helicopter hanger, a warehouse and a training facility, followed by installation of a PV system on each of the rooftops.

“The challenge was the short duration of the project,” Zapata said. “We had six months to design and build it. The design usually takes two to three months, which gave us only a few months to build it.”

For the other installation, Synergy worked on a $4.1 million system at Naval Base Point Loma. Synergy reroofed and installed PV systems on seven buildings.

Another $1.38 million Synergy project on the MCAS Miramar base entailed replacement of high-intensity discharge parking lot lights on 120 light poles, some single and some double, with solar-powered compact fluorescent lamps.

Baker Electric
Baker Electric, located in San Diego County, is a full-service, fourth-generation, family owned and operated company in business since 1938. It was a subcontractor to Barnhart Balfour Beatty, a design/build contractor with offices in San Diego and other Southern California cities, on a $22.66 million project for the Department of the Navy. Baker’s electrical portion of the project at NASNI was $1.97 million for a complete renovation of two seven-story BEQs, with 252 rooms in each building.

“Since it was a design/build project, Baker Electric played a pivotal role in the designing of the project,” said Ron Shannon, project manager, Baker Electric Inc. “For many months prior to construction, we worked with the design team, which included electrical and mechanical engineers sharing information and doing research, and participated in drafting of the plans and specs for owner approval prior to construction.”

During the construction phase, Baker Electric installed all new electrical devices, fixtures and switchgear.

“As far as we were concerned, it was essentially a new building since everything had been stripped except the concrete shell,” Shannon said.

Baker Electric’s subcontractor, Electronic Control System Inc. of San Diego, installed a fire alarm system consisting of a mass notification system, addressable devices and smoke detectors in every room.

Another fire and life safety installation was a complete fire sprinkler system for each building, which included Baker Electric’s installation of two Kohler 60-kilowatt (kW) diesel generators that will be used as backup for the fire pumps if power is lost to either building during a fire. The company also designed and installed a 50-kW PV system on the roof of each building.

“Baker did a super job,” said Mark Sarles, project manager, Barnhart Balfour Beatty. “Our company has applied for a certified LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] equivalency through the U.S. Navy for the project.”

Neal Electric
Also working under contract with Barnhart Balfour Beatty was Neal Electric, Poway, Calif. Neal Electric has provided electrical services to Southern California for more than 25 years.

Under Project Manager Sam Passanisi, Neal Electric renovated a BEQ at Camp Pendleton that encompasses 60,000 square feet of living space for 308 enlisted personnel. The work included repair and refurbishment of two-person sleeping rooms, offices, TV lounges, game rooms, a vending area, a reading/computer room, laundry rooms and windows. Neal Electric replaced the branch wiring, switchgear, lighting and telephone, cable TV and data wiring.

“The finished building exceeds energy reduction targets by 30 percent,” said Clark Thompson, president, Neal Electric.

Barnhart Balfour Beatty applied for LEED Gold equivalency for this project.

Southern Contracting Co.
Southern Contracting Co., San Marcos, Calif. was founded in 1963 by incorporating officers Richard McBride and George Bryant and is led today by McBride’s son, Timothy R. McBride. Southern Contracting and the city of San Marcos garnered two contracts as a subcontractor to the nearby city of Chula Vista, which received a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development using Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant program funds. One contract was for a solar project that was funded with $874,300 from the block grant program. It included design and installation of PV systems on 11 city buildings, including city hall. In total, the project was 480 kW, with an average of 45 kW per site. The other was for streetlight replacement.

“The actual installation of solar was pretty straightforward, but one of the biggest challenges with the solar project was making sure we complied with Buy American requirements and all the requirements of the block grant,” said Jim Filanc, director of marketing, Southern Contracting Co. “We had to get quotes from manufacturers who could prove they were making solar modules in the U.S. and reveal our certified payroll to prove we were paying the prevailing wage.”

“The city first secured the Energy Efficiency Block Grant in 2009, then applied for and got California Solar Initiative rebates as a reservation and secured the loan through the California Energy Commission (CEC), a 1 percent loan, which is to be paid back in 11 years,” Filanc said. “By combining all these sources and looking at the energy savings, the city was able to get the payback down to under 11 years, which allowed it to finance the entire project.”

Southern Contracting’s second project was for replacement of streetlights in all residential neighborhoods in Chula Vista, a project completely financed by a CEC 3 percent loan program, also requiring an 11-year payback. Southern replaced 100-watt (W) high pressure sodium lights with 52W light-emitting diodes, which amounts to a savings of 48W.

“If you assume an average of 11 hours a day of operation, the energy saving is 15 kW a month per light, which amounts to an annual savings of $191,000 per year,” Filanc said. “With that money, the city can reinvest in more energy-efficient projects and be an active participant in state greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

The aim of the ARRA projects was to stimulate the U.S. economy. Did they have that effect in the San Diego area?

“Although the long-term economic effect of ARRA is still unknown, it certainly was very beneficial to our contractors as it came at a time when there were few, if any, privately funded construction projects,” said Andrew Berg, manager, National Electrical Contractors Association, San Diego.

CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at and

About the Author

Susan Casey

Freelance Writer
Susan Casey, author of "Women Heroes of the American Revolution," "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors," and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at or www.susancaseybooks...

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