Solar Energy Generates Bright Ideas for Ontario Contractor
Lawrence Knapp has learned all about “making hay while the sun shines.”
With the emergence of solar energy farms as a multi-billion dollar industry, Mr. Knapp saw the light soon after the government of Ontario introduced programs to encourage solar development in 2009. He quickly went to work building a new equipment fleet to provide specialized construction services to solar operators.
Based in Brockville, Ontario, L.A. Knapp Construction has now won numerous contracts in eastern Ontario to convert marginal agricultural land into productive solar farms. In just a few years, Ontario has become a world leader in solar energy production. Investors are attracted to Knapp’s area, where bedrock lying just below the thin soil provides a sound footing for the collector panels.
Under current energy contracts, investors have 20 years to recover their investment. “My customers are in a high risk, high reward business,” says Mr. Knapp. “They have to move quickly to secure their contracts and come on-stream while conditions are favorable.”
To get on board, Lawrence Knapp had to move quickly, too. Instead of going through his typical negotiation process with dealers, he took the unusual step of putting his equipment needs out to tender. In short order, he was signing purchase orders with Top Lift Enterprises of Stoney Creek, Ontario.
“It was an interesting approach. Lawrence put together a complete set of bid documents, just like a municipal buyer would. So we reviewed his requirements and bid our best price,” recalls Top Lift’s Chris Anderssen.
“It was just luck that I found Top Lift,” admits Lawrence Knapp. “I saw their name on the side of some Link-Belt equipment on a jobsite, so I sent them my bid package. Now I’m in my third season working with them.”
Right tools, bright people
For one recent project, more than 5,000 posts were driven into the rock across 48.5 ha. This site will generate 10 MW of electricity for Ontario’s power grid, enough to power more than 2,000 homes. Connecting the arrays to the grid can require 3 km to 5 km of buried cable.
Since the division’s start-up, Knapp has completed 8 utility-scale solar projects. More than 70 large solar farms are already up and running in Ontario, making the province a world leader in solar development. New projects are under way to farm the sunlight on as much as 300 ha. By the end of the construction season next year, Ontario will have installed 2 GW (2,000 MW) of solar-generated electricity.
According to Lawrence Knapp, Top Lift has been a valuable asset to his new business and to his customers. “I just needed the right mix of tools to make the projects profitable for the owners,” he explains. “Top Lift has done a good job advising us on the mix of equipment and then supporting it.”
Once the equipment was delivered, Top Lift’s service manager, Steve Cargill, and technician Shawn Ellis got to work with L.A. Knapp’s crews at the jobsite. Top Lift has completed the configuration of the machines to suit Knapp’s particular requirements, and also provided onsite training for operators and technicians.
“Time is money at every step with these projects.” says Mr. Knapp. “We had to have our guys right up to speed on the new Tier 4 technology. We can’t afford any downtime or delays with these machines.” Along with maintenance training for L.A. Knapp technicians, Top Lift instructed operators on new shutdown procedures to ensure easy start-ups each morning.
“The service team at Top Lift, they’re pretty bright young fellows. One of their technicians from the Montreal office even made up some special decals for the cabs, as guides for the operators. Since those have been installed, we haven’t had to have a Top Lift technician come out to our jobsites yet,” adds Mr. Knapp.
Chris Anderssen sums up Top Lift’s service policy this way: “When he calls us, we come. We fix what needs to be fixed. We modify what needs to be modified and he knows that we can take care of him.”
The current boom in solar is not expected to last for long, but Lawrence Knapp is prepared for that, too. He has continued to build his fleet with Top Lift, so he now provides year-round maintenance services to the sites he built. He again turned to Top Lift to supply Takeuchi excavators with attachments custom-modified for the job. “We were brought in to do maintenance on the site and, the next day, that solar farm produced more in one day than it had in the previous two months!”
As a long-time equipment sales specialist, Chris Anderssen recognizes the unique opportunity that Lawrence Knapp has pioneered. “We’re still working on new ideas for his fleet. This relationship has really grown, from a basic tender document to the personal connections we’ve made with him throughout the company. From our managing director, David Shea, to our people in the field, we use those connections to better understand the needs of our customers at every level. That’s how new opportunities turn into wins for everyone.”
Based in Stoney Creek, Ontario, with fully equipped service branches in Quebec and BC, Top Lift is one of Canada’s fastest growing construction equipment and heavy industrial dealers.
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