Photo provided by Sullivan Solar Power.
Crew members pose for a picture while taking a break during a solar installation project at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.  

Thanks to the hard work and expertise of San Diego Local 569’s members, the city’s Major League Baseball franchise kicked off the 2018 season leading the league – at least when it came to solar power.

Sullivan Solar Power employees and San Diego Local 569 members install solar panels atop Petco Park as the winter sun begins to set.
Photo provided by Sullivan Solar Power.

Erin Brady is a native San Diegan and fan of his hometown Padres. But the Local 569 first-year apprentice admits he wasn’t sure what he’d gotten into when he learned he was assigned to work at Petco Park.

“I went to one of my supervisors and thought it was a pet store,” Brady said, mixing up the baseball stadium with its sponsor, the national pet food and supplies chain based in the city. “He said, ‘No, we’re going out to the baseball stadium.’ It was really cool and unexpected.”

That supervisor was journeyman inside wireman Cesar Chaidez, a 13-year employee of Sullivan Solar Power, the project’s signatory contractor. Chaidez has been on more jobsites than he can remember, but he agreed with Brady that this one was special – despite the fact he grew up in Los Angeles rooting for the Padres’ division rival Dodgers.

“I’ve been going [to Petco Park] since it opened in 2004,” said Chaidez, a Local 569 member for 18 years. “What an awesome place.”

Brady and Chaidez were two of the 27 Local 569 members that were part of the crew that installed a 336,520-watt solar lighting system at Petco Park. Work started in late December and was finished by the home opener on March 29.

“As a baseball fan myself, being able to come to a game once the season started and saying to my friends ‘Those are the panels I worked on is kind of a dream come true,” said Brady, 32, who worked as a bartender in the Washington, D.C., area for 10 years before returning home and beginning his electrical career last year.

The Padres are projected to save more than $4 million in utility costs over the next 25 years due to the project. Petco Park now has more solar power than the seven other major-league stadiums that use solar combined thanks to the work of Sullivan Solar Power, which is a longtime partner of the team and sponsored Padres Solar Day for the second consecutive year during a June 30 game.

“It was eye opening,” Brady said. “It really confirmed that I made a good decision in joining the IBEW. When you work on a project like that, it opens your eyes to the scope of the work you can do as an electrician.”

Sullivan’s president, Daniel Sullivan, went through Local 569’s apprenticeship program and was a member until he started the company in 2004. He later taught the solar photovoltaic course at the San Diego Electrical Training Center.

“I founded Sullivan Solar Power 14 years ago to create a case study in San Diego, proving that we have the technology, financing and skill to fundamentally change the way we generate electricity,” he said. “This project highlights that we are leading the solar energy revolution.”

Working on a Major League Baseball stadium presented some additional challenges, Chaidez said. Large-scale solar installation often is done atop a relatively flat roof. Workers usually do not have to be tied off.

A San Diego Local 569 member and Sullivan Solar Power employee carries a solar power across the grandstand roof at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
Photo provided by Sullivan Solar Power.

That isn’t the case at Petco Park. Sloping protective canopies were installed over the grandstand. The 716 solar panels – each with 470-watt Sunpower solar modules – were installed atop the narrow roof that juts out over it. Electricians were tied off while installing the panels and often found themselves working on open beams. Sullivan Solar Power employees also had to install more than a mile of conduit.

“Working on open beams was different,’’ Chaidez said. “We’ve never really done something like that. That was pretty interesting.”

Other challenges included working while other events were going on in the stadium and figuring out a conduit patch while working near the Western Metal Building, a structure more than 100 years old that sits adjacent to the stadium in right field and houses the Padres’ offices and team store.

“Safety is always the No. 1 concern,” Chaidez said. “That’s a little more difficult having to be tied off. We had to go out there with our safety contractor and figure something out. It didn’t slow us down too much, and we made sure everyone was safe.”

Brady thought working on open beams would be nerve racking. Instead, he learned he enjoys it and looks forward to continuing it throughout his career.

“Once you’re out there, and especially if you have a task you’re concentrating on, you know it needs to be done and you understand you’re safe and tied off. You realize you’re a lot more comfortable than you thought you might be,” he said.

The project’s benefits extend to the community, too.

The new panels will produce 12 million kilowatt hours over the next 25 years, according to Sullivan Solar Power officials. That is the equivalent of taking 1,200 homes off the electrical grid.

It also helps the city meet the goal of its climate action plan, which calls for it to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

“This solar project reaffirms San Diego as the leader in solar and the city’s commitment to 100 percent clean energy,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “We are leading by example for the country to see that solar power is the future today.”

Yes, the project has an eye toward the future. But it also continues a long-standing IBEW tradition of securing good-paying, union jobs with the help of signatory contractors that have a strong commitment to the community.

Local 569 members and members of other IBEW local unions in the San Diego area saw that firsthand when they gathered for the annual IBEW Night during a Padres game at Petco Park earlier this season. More than 700 members attended.

“I must admit, I have a little more pride when I go to a game now because I know the amazing work our members did to finish that project on a tight deadline, all while doing it in a safe, professional manner,” Local 569 Business Manager Nick Segura said. “Things like that make us so proud of the people we represent. We’re thrilled by our association with Sullivan Solar Power and look forward to it continuing for years to come.”

Click here and here to see two videos from Sullivan Solar Power on the project.