For Founder and CEO Jim Lamon, DEPCOM Power is more than a leader in low-cost, high-quality utility-scale solar energy; its core values mean it’s also creating jobs, hiring veterans, supporting American-made initiatives and generously giving back to charity. And it’s helping the environment by providing a clean, renewable power source.
Founded in 2013 in Scottsdale, Arizona, DEPCOM’s been on a rapid and illustrious journey to become one of the fastest-growing, privately held utility-scale solar power companies in the US. Jim is a Fortune 500 executive with more than 30 years of experience in engineering, construction and management of large-scale fossil fuel and solar power plants.
He grew up on a farm in Alabama, later going on to study civil engineering at the University of Alabama. There, he played college football under legendary coach Bear Bryant, whose mentoring still guides him today.
After finishing his studies, Jim spent six years as an Engineer Airborne Officer for the US Army and was posted for a time in Germany. Being the first guy out the door of a plane at 3,200 feet requires nerves of steel, and it’s this combination of personal strength and learnings throughout his career that has helped Jim lead DEPCOM to the success it enjoys today.
Here comes the sun
“Solar is now the low-cost leader for new source generation on the American electrical grid,” Jim explains. “In fact, over the past 10 years, utility solar power has now ramped up to replace almost 1% of US grid power annually. By the end of 2020, this will be a cumulative increase of 5%.”
The company has recently broken ground with a new solar plant in Virginia and construction is currently underway in six states, as more utility and industry power consumers move to lower-cost utility solar power.
“Coal and nuclear are coming off the grid at approximately 3% annually due to their higher cost,” Jim says. “Gas, solar and wind are replacing those sources.” In 2018, 29% of all new US electricity capacity installed came from solar.
This means that after only 10 years since inception, utility solar power is now the low-cost leader in grid power. The industry employs over 240,000 Americans. GO BIG OR GO HOME DEPCOM has just joined the ranks of the nation’s Top Solar Contractors, recognized by Solar Power World.
“This recognition reflects our team’s significant accomplishments in our short 80 months of operation,” Jim says proudly. “We’re the sixth largest utility solar contractor. Our five larger competitors are multibillion-dollar conglomerates who have averaged 80 years of business compared with our 80 months. We’re not growth-oriented just for growth. We’re principled and focused on customer service and repeat business. Businesses will continue to come to us.”
We’re not growth-oriented just for growth.
Scale creates the opportunity for driving costs down and creating competitiveness. “DEPCOM continues to grow at approximately 30% annually due to our efficient operational model and high customer satisfaction,” Jim explains.
“People are looking at their power more closely and we offer both lower cost and clean energy. Trends show the current utility solar market at US$7 billion.”
Made in America
DEPCOM is proudly committed to buying American-made, and where possible, the company buys American-sourced materials and supports local business. 76% of the solar components used in DEPCOM’s solar plant sites are procured from American suppliers.
“Our ‘buy American’ rationale is doing the right thing. We’re keeping the jobs and funds in our country,” Jim says. So how has DEPCOM managed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? “It’s been a challenging time but one we’ve adapted to as a company,” Jim reflects.
“We observed best safety practices in our three offices and 14 job sites. We also increased wages across all sites to reward our hardworking craftspeople.” Internal and external communication has also been key for DEPCOM during the pandemic.
“We’ve been in constant communication with our clients and subcontractors to mitigate risk and any scheduling concerns,” Jim explains. “Client feedback is positive as we continue to move projects forward safely to meet their power purchase agreement deadlines.”
20% of the 1,300-person-strong DEPCOM team is comprised of US military veterans. The national populace is 6%. “Our veterans tend to lead,” Jim shares.
“They’ve ensured the safety of our teams while still meeting production goals. Vets have that productive factor; they button it up, strap it on and go to work. They’re out there getting the job done.”
The company’s 150 permanent engineers, designers and operations staff all have their own skin in the game as owners. “All DEPCOM team members are given shares in the company,” Jim states.
Giving back is one of our core values.
“Our goal is that DEPCOM staff act like owners rather than employees. “They’re shareholders and owners working together each day to be national champions. They don’t want to just get the job done but to be the best in the industry. We want everyone to fully embrace being the best in customer service as this is the source of our income. Even our staff bonus system is linked to our customer satisfaction surveys.”
Jim is proud of DEPCOM’s safety culture and industry-leading health, safety and environmental practices. In fact, every DEPCOM meeting and job site day is started with a ‘Safety Moment’ with the belief that all occupational injuries are preventable. “I work hard to be a good mentor and coach,” he says.
“I want to help the team make the most of their talents and reach their ultimate level. We move them into positions they can be more successful in and give them the training they need. We stretch them to grow continuously.”
DEPCOM actively works with suppliers and partners to shift its supply chain to local sources. This provides good risk mitigation and minimizes supply chain disruption. “Having shorter domestic supply chains has helped throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jim suggests.
“Price, quality, delivery and a history of meeting commitments are key measures of our supplier partnerships. Some of our suppliers have even incorporated DEPCOM core values into their own. I’m also very proud that a few DEPCOM teammates have left to form their own subcontracting firms and are now hired to work on DEPCOM projects.”
DEPCOM has key initiatives that focus on continuing the company’s growth and momentum. “We’ve expanded into energy storage with several upcoming projects utilizing Tesla’s industry-leading battery storage technology,” Jim explains.
“Our operating and maintenance capabilities have proven to be an incredible asset to our customers. They generate energy outputs that meet and often exceed our unique energy guarantees. We saw there was a niche in the marketplace to build upon our expertise in plant operations for our existing customers and third-party plant owners in several key areas.
“We’ve expanded our repowering reach to improve lower-performing plants built by other contractors that have since exited the competitive industry. We’ve also grown our restoration business to help restore solar plants damaged by natural disasters and our recertification business to offer cost-effective warranty and maintenance programs for solar plant operating equipment.”
From the very beginning, Jim and the founding team at DEPCOM wanted to demonstrate the company’s integrity by committing to “doing the right thing even when it’s hard”. Equally, their civic responsibility continues to be a cornerstone of the company’s foundations.
The DEPCOM team has a big heart for making a difference and are proud of the positive impact they can make in the communities they work in. “Giving back is one of our core values,” Jim states.
“Collectively, we give 10% of our net income to the most in need across the country. We’ve given US$7 million over 80 months.” Not-for-profit DEPCOM GIVES was established to manage the stewardship of this charitable giving.
“We get deeply involved in the community through our retired pastor on staff, who personally focuses on distributing donations and volunteer efforts for non-profits,” Jim says. “We support veteran organizations, the impoverished, and education programs and community solar.”
Today, DEPCOM provides low-cost, high-quality utility-scale solar energy, its employees are owners, it supports the American economy, employs veterans and generously gives to charity. It does all of this while driving down the cost of electricity for US ratepayers. “Doing the right thing” is just what DEPCOM does.
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