Hannah Solar Government Services

Hannah SolarThe military background of Hannah Solar Government Services' founder and staff uniquely qualifies it for projects in the private sector and beyond.

By Jim Harris, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Publishing 

It did not take long for retired U.S. Army Col. Dave McNeil to decide on the next phase of his life after he left the military in 2009 following 30 years of service. 

During the last portion of his military career, which included serving as a deputy base commander at Fort Polk, La., and as a commander at Fort Dix, N.J., McNeil saw the Army embrace solar photovoltaic (PV) systems as an energy source. This observation, as well as McNeil’s background and degree in electrical engineering, naturally led him to solar energy as a private-sector career option. “Engineering was my other love, and I wanted to specialize in solar energy,” he says. Hannah Solar info box

In 2010, McNeil founded Hannah Solar Government Services (HSGS) and almost immediately began working on PV design and installation projects for the military and other government clients. “As a base commander, I understand all of the requirements of working in military facility,” he adds. “Having this insider’s point-of-view makes it very easy for me to go onto a base with my crew and work seamlessly with the rest of the base operations.”

In addition to McNeil himself, HSGS’s staff includes a number of other people with military experience. Roughly 30 percent of the company’s employees are veterans. “We’ve built a crew primarily around veterans who have the same type of background that I do and who understand military requirements,” he says.  

The Charleston, S.C.-based company works both as a prime Contractor to the government and commercial clients as well as a subcontractor to energy service companies and general contractors. In addition to its work for the government and military, HSGS installs PV systems for retail and other commercial customers. 

“Installing a PV system on the roof of a Target store is no different than installing it on the roof of a military warehouse building in terms of technology and equipment,” he says. “The main difference is the military and government are a tougher customer with high standards of safety, security and inspection processes. If you can do military work, you can easily do commercial projects.” 

On Wake Island

Multinational energy services company The Wood Group recently awarded HSGS a contract to design, engineer and build a solar microgrid system on the U.S. Air Force’s base on Wake Island. The system will include a 740-kw ground-mounted PV system and battery energy storage system. Construction will begin in August.

Located to the west of the International Date Line in the North Pacific Ocean, Wake Island is less than three square miles in total area. A microgrid provides the island and other similarly remote locations with a more resilient source of energy than a traditional energy grid, HSGS says.

Wake Island’s remote location poses logistical challenges for the company. “The only way to get there is to take a U.S. Air Force plane that flies out once every two weeks,” McNeil says.

Once the HSGS crew arrives on the island, they will live in 40-foot-long modified shipping containers. Three crewmembers will sleep in each container and have their own 12- by 8- by 8-foot bedroom. 

Materials are being shipped to Hawaii, and then placed on a barge destined for Wake Island. HSGS has already started shipping crew vehicles as well as excavators, trucks and other equipment. “We have to be sure we’re taking every single screwdriver and piece of tape that we will need – there isn’t a Home Depot we can stop in and buy something,” McNeil says. “Everything has to be planned out months in advance.”

Commuting by Ferry

HSGS faces a different logistical challenge on another upcoming project. Work will begin in June on a 2.3-mw ballasted and ground-mounted solar PV system consisting of more than 8,000 panels located on Meck Island in the Kwajalein Atoll, located in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Energy provider Johnson Controls Federal Systems is the company’s client.

Kwajalein Atoll consists of 97 islands, 11 of which are leased by the U.S. government. One of those islands, Meck Island, is a U.S. Army installation that contains the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test site.

Equipment and materials destined for Meck Island will first be sent to a neighboring island in the Kwajalein Atoll. Containers will be placed four at a time on a cargo barge, which will take them to Meck Island. A total of 40 to 50 containers will ultimately be sent. Crewmembers will stay on the other island, then take a 90-minute ferry ride to Meck Island to perform their work, McNeil says.

Rapid Growth

HSGS’s other ongoing projects include installing a 2.5-mw solar array in El Paso, Texas, for the Drug Enforcement Administration, and installing PV systems at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., for NASA and in Atlanta for the Centers for Disease Control. The company’s recent private-sector projects include installing systems in Florence, S.C., for Otis Elevator Company, and in Columbia, S.C., for Trane. 

The company continues to grow in revenue as well as recognition. McNeil was recently named South Carolina Small Businessperson of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

“Our revenue has doubled from last year to this year. We are hiring at a fast and furious pace, adding new equipment and looking for a larger office space,” McNeil says. “In the next two years, I expect us to double our revenue and continue to grow. The future of the solar market is expected to be very good.”

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