Wisconsin solar panel installer credits success to adaptability and the right equipment mix
May 04, 2022
Ask any contractor their secret to success and you’re likely to get as many answers as there are inidividuals. But there is one factor that’s consistent across the board, and that is equipment. Work won’t get done without it, so it’s important to make the right choices.
This is especially true in Wisconsin, a land of extremes. This upper Midwestern state experiences climatological extremes not commonly found elsewhere.
They say, before their first steps, every young cheesehead hears the legendary tale of the 1967 “Ice Bowl” that registered a gametime temperature of a frigid negative 13 degrees. Yet, 50,000 loyal Green Bay Packers fans arrived like it was business as usual.
Because that’s how Wisconsinites are: They show up when there’s a job to do.
“I like to tell my guys we have a 150-degree range of work,” says Cody Van Ginkel, site superintendent for Arch Electric, a Plymouth, Wisconsin family-owned company that’s been installing solar panels in the area since 2003. “If it’s negative 30 out, we’re working. If it’s 110, we’re still working.”
Van Glinkel says a lot of their winter utility projects put Arch Electric crews through the gauntlet, as they start in early October and go right through January or February. “You’ve got to have the right equipment to work in wet, hot conditions of late fall and then be able to work in subzero freezing temperatures a few weeks later.”
Wide range of equipment offers flexibility
Anyone would need durability and flexibility to withstand Wisconsin’s weather extremes. That’s why Arch Electric’s fleet includes four Bobcat T76 compact track loaders, two UV34 diesel utility vehicles, a Toolcat 5600 utility work machine and a 20-year-old Bobcat excavator that run the gamut for them. They also have a variety of attachments for installations, snow removal and moving materials.
A range of compact equipment gives Arch crews the flexibility to complete all types of jobs they confront, whether installing small-scale ground mounts in a backyard with 20 feet of space, working around their outdoor warehouse facility or building a complete solar farm on 20 acres.
“The Toolcat 5600 is great for tight spaces with its all-wheel steering,” Van Glinkel says, adding that they use the utility work machine for snow and warehouse work, as well as for module installations. “It is kind of like a Swiss Army Knife for us. It has the capability to do everything we need it to.”
The UV34 utility vehicles are primarily used for moving crews and light materials around larger sites, and Van Glinkel particularly likes the optional speed kit available on diesel models, which enables them to lower the top speed from 25 to 15 mph.
“I really appreciate something like that,” he says. “I know it’s not a feature every customer is looking for. But to know the option is there if we want it for our
people is nice.”
The T76 compact track loaders may be considered the workhorses of the Arch Electric Bobcat equipment fleet, and there are four T76s used for installations year-round.
Their low-ground-pressure track system enables them to easily push through soft, wet or muddy conditions that are prevalent during the rainy months and spring thaw. The roomy enclosed cab features automatic heat and air conditioning for operator comfort in either weather extreme.
Tapping the growing market for renewables
Eighteen years ago, solar power seemed like more of a theory than a solution, especially in the North, where pristine wooded lakes couldn’t be more different from the terrain typically associated with scorching Southwest solar farms.
But the Arch Electric founders’ passion for renewables outweighed the noise from the naysayers, and they decided to take the calculated leap. Now, they are considered an industry leader, paving the way for renewables in Wisconsin.
Van Glinkel says that when he first started at Arch Electric eight years ago, they were maybe installing one solar system per year. Now, they are doing more than 100 residential installs, a dozen commercial installs and a handful of utilities annually.
“We were able to address a booming market need in a relatively short span of time,” he recalls. “The renewables industry has grown so rapidly that we’ve had to adapt to those changes, and Bobcat machines are an extension of every man we have. We could not have adapted without them.”
It’s easy to show up for the first job, but sustaining a two-decade-long commitment to excellence is what sets businesses apart. Arch Electric has proven over the last 20 years that you can’t be successful that long without being reliable and having trust in the services you provide.
To that end, Van Glinkel said his local dealer, Miller Implement Co. Inc., of St. Nazianz, “goes the extra mile to ensure we have the right equipment, and they are spot on for us every time.”
Adaptability equals success
Van Glinkel says that as their business has evolved, buying more compact and mid-sized equipment rather than fewer heavy machines gave them the flexibility they need.
The theme of Arch Electric’s successful business story is adaptability. In today’s construction climate, particularly in an evolving industry like renewables, if a company cannot adapt, they won’t last long. As the number-one solar installer in Wisconsin, Arch Electric has been successful for 20 years with an adaptable approach to work, an ideal equipment mix and a dependable dealer relationship.
“We’ve stopped looking other places for equipment, Van Glinkel says. “Bobcat has been so durable and reliable for us for the last two decades, and if you did a photo montage of Arch work, there would be a Bobcat machine in there somewhere. That’s pretty impressive for a company that has been around as long as we have.”