COPEMISH — On the afternoon of May 4, three days before an executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed construction to resume statewide, Allan O’Shea was “ready to go to the party.”
O’Shea, the president and sales director of CBS Solar in Copemish, was readying his company and workers to resume installing rooftop and ground-mounted solar panels on residential properties.
While energy has been considered critical infrastructure during Michigan’s stay-home order, much of the work involving contact with customers — including assessments in or around homes for solar and energy efficiency — was put on hold. The stoppage came after a relatively mild January and February, when “we were going great guns,” O’Shea said.
However, O’Shea is coming back in high gear. Although some projects are resuming that were put on hold, O’Shea was actively marketing during the roughly six-week shutdown, gaining more customers. The active 10 to 15 jobs are lined up from Petoskey to Mason County, he said.
“It was very nerve wracking. We didn’t know how long this was going to go,” O’Shea said. “But we kept advertising and talking to customers.”
O’Shea developed a set of guidelines for employees based on Whitmer’s executive order opening the construction industry and his own research. Workers will maintain social distancing at job sites and will take multiple company vehicles to the locations. O’Shea is also offering workers a per diem if they feel safer traveling in their own vehicle and bringing their own food. Customers are contacted ahead of time about whether they’re comfortable with crews being there. The safety precautions are likely to stay in place at least through the year.
“Even if there is a vaccine developed, I’m not going to change our procedures because the damage certainly hurts our cash flow and ability to grow as a company,” he said. “And here we are in the middle of it.”
While broader concerns remain for the renewable energy industry post-coronavirus, particularly for utility-scale renewable energy projects, O’Shea said he’s been assured his supply chain won’t face major disruptions. Delays may happen as other contractors — such as electricians — face a backlog of work after also returning on May 7.
Meanwhile, CBS Solar qualified for a roughly $50,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan during the first round. O’Shea said it’s unlikely the company will be able to comply with all of the provisions, like using 75 percent of it to cover payroll, that allow the loan to be forgivable.
“It wasn’t going to make or break us, but if we didn’t get it, it could have hurt us really bad,” he said. “I feel for those who haven’t got it, especially with the way they’re acting in Washington now.”
With new safety guidelines and a steady log of projects, CBS Solar appears to have emerged from the first big wave of COVID-19 in Michigan.
“We’re all fired up and ready to go,” O’Shea said.