Solar Builder Projects of the Year 2021: Editor’s Choice


Our Project of the Year Awards popular vote is great for a number of reasons, but personally, I like it for letting me off the hook. How could we possibly pick one winner? That’s too much responsibility with so many awesome solar projects worthy of recognition.

But then again, after we tally up votes, I’m always left saying “well, what about this one?! … and man, this other one was so great!” At which point I remember that I am the editor and can do what I want. So …

Welcome to the 4th annual Solar Builder Editor’s Choice Awards! We are not solar pros out in field, but we do write about dozens of solar projects every week at We have a feel for what’s fairly routine and what’s unique or notable. The following projects were nominated for our Project of the Year Awards, didn’t win the popular vote, but caught our collective editorial eye — everything from notable missions, subtly cool problem-solving, community impact or just plain jaw-dropping execution.

Thanks again to all who entered this year’s awards. The race for next year’s winners starts now.

Best Build

American Kings | Lemoore, Calif. | 170 MWdc

Developer: Rabbitbrush Solar LLC | Contractor: McCarthy Building Companies | Modules: First Solar | Inverters: TMEIC | Mounting: Nextracker

Plotted on 945 acres between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the American Kings solar plant is just shy of 400,000 Series 6 modules installed on site and involved 34 central inverters, 66,000 DC string mini circuits, over 92 miles of electrical cabling, and just over 5,000 tracker rows. Those numbers are notable because, from a project execution standpoint, American Kings was one of the fastest constructed solar projects ever at just over nine months after startup — despite facing the obstacles of a global pandemic and rolling government shutdowns that affected material supply shipments from different parts of the world with nearly two-month delays. During the summer of 2020, the project site also experienced heavy smoke and air quality concerns from the California wildfires. The McCarthy team proactively planned out the impact on the construction timeline and developed work resequencing approaches to ensure the project finished on time.

Best Reuse of Land

Salvage Yard

Salvage Yard | Morrisville, Vt. | 3.3 MW

Developer: Encore Renewable Energy | Contractor: iSun | Modules: ET Solar | Inverter: CPS | Mounting: RBI Solar

Encore Renewable Energy converted an old auto salvage yard into a solar project, delivering renewable energy to the local utility. The landowners will remain on the land that has been in their family for generations, as the operational solar project affords both an annual lease payment as well as the means to complete the environmental remediation required to achieve regulatory closure of this family-owned former auto salvage facility. The ground beneath the solar array was seeded with pollinator-friendly ground cover to support vital habitat for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and other insects critical to future food security. In addition, the pollinator-friendly ground cover increases carbon sequestration, improves soil quality, reduces stormwater runoff and channels stormwater back into underlying aquifers, while addressing the social importance of supporting healthy food systems.

Problem Solving

Harvey Milk SFO Terminal | San Francisco | 1.34 MW

Developers: Hensel Phelps, Redwood Electric | Modules: GCL | Inverters: SolarEdge | Mounting: Sollega Inc.

The solar PV ballasted/hybrid flat roof racking installed on the new Harvey Milk (Terminal 1) at San Francisco International Airport was tricky for two reasons. The azimuth of the array was analyzed in respect of the runways and approaching airplanes to ensure glare wouldn’t affect their landing and taking off. A third-party engineering firm specializing in glare studies was tapped to conduct a study and determined the array layout that would ensure safety for approaching airplanes. Hensel Phelps and Redwood Electric then had to find the right racking system that would follow the curvature design and handle the roof’s undulations. In the end, each sub array is slightly angled to appear to be curved when seen from satellite images. The PV contributed to the Terminal’s LEED Gold Certification.

Best Partnership

Sun Link Transportation Center | Tucson, Ariz. | 163 kW

Developer / Contractor: SOLON Corp. | Modules: JA Solar | Inverters: CPS | Mounting: S-5! and IronRidge

The Sun Link Streetcar connects five unique districts within Tucson, Ariz., including the downtown area and the University of Arizona. SOLON provided the city with an aesthetically pleasing curved roof-mounted solar array to match the roof and shade it from the scorching Arizona sun to reduce air conditioning bills. Not only does the solar system look great but it will produce more than 6.5 million kWh of electricity over 25 years and the City of Tucson will save over $500,000. But, even better, this was merely one of 48 projects SOLON completed in partnership with the City of Tucson. Talk about impact!

Coolest Carports


Maryknoll | Ossining, N.Y. | 873 kW

Developer: Ecogy Energy | Contractor: GreenSpark | Modules: Talesun | Inverters: SolarEdge | Carports: Quest Renewables

Ecogy Energy’s Maryknoll project comprises 12 parking lot canopies with bifacial solar panels, spanning two different parking lots on the campus of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers of Ossining, a Catholic order of priests and brothers. The system is also the first community solar system in Ossining and the largest canopy in New York’s Westchester County. The development of this community solar system provides Maryknoll and over 70 Ossining households with solar energy, 15 percent of which are members of an affordable housing community. All subscribers receive 10 percent bill discounts. The carport arrays will also provide the campus with covered parking for Northeast winters, parking lot lighting for increased nighttime safety and security and is also a highly visible green initiative. Additionally, the carport solar arrays do not increase impermeable surfaces as they are constructed on the already existing concrete parking lot, thereby reducing water runoff.

Community Standout

BayWa r.e.

Carney Seeding | Nashville | 7 kW

Developer: BayWa r.e. | Contractor: Jason Carney | Modules: JA Solar | Inverters: SolarEdge | Storage: LG Chem Mounting: Quick Mount, Unirac

There’s no better way to spread the word in a community about solar than to seed it right in their backyard. Jason Carney and BayWa r.e. partnered to develop residential rooftop solar for a community garden in an African American community in Nashville, Tenn. — a neighborhood that doesn’t have any rooftop solar. This matters, especially in communities of color, to help keep energy wealth in the community. A sign at the community garden solar site informs passersby about residential solar and provides contact information so that they can start their own solar journey. The 7-kW system will save the homeowner $21,700 in electricity, but the benefit of this project goes much further as the garden provides fresh fruits and vegetables in a food desert. BayWa r.e. provided surplus inventory for the project that was eating up space and money on shelves. Carney identified the project opportunity and installed the solar panels with additional support from Sydney Talbert Construction for labor and electrical support.

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