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Solar, Data Centers Power Cupertino Electric's Growth

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Though specialty contractor firms in California and across the nation have been buffeted by severe market and financial pressures, Cupertino Electric Inc. (CEI) is expanding.

Photo courtesy of Cupertino Electric
CEI's work on the new San Francisco Public Utilities headquarters helped the project earn LEED-Platinum status.
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The San Jose-based firm rang up a huge 81% increase in 2011 revenue, pushing it to No. 2 on this year's Top Specialty Contractors list, from No. 4 last year. From its Silicon Valley base, CEI has maintained a strong position in data center construction. It also has become a major player in solar energy, having installed an impressive 150 MW of photovoltaics to date. The firm also emphasizes giving back to the community through an extensive charitable donation and service program. As a result of these accomplishments, ENR California has picked Cupertino Electric as its Specialty Contractor of the Year.

The company, which has offices in San Jose; San Francisco; Santa Fe Springs; Gilbert, Ariz.; and Prineville, Ore., provides a range of services, including consulting/management, energy analysis, engineering, green building, maintenance and operations, project management and technology evaluation.

CEI traces its history to 1954, when Eugene Ravizza purchased Kucher Electric and renamed it Cupertino Electric. It has been in the forefront of California's high-tech industry since its early years. In 1960, CEI completed the electrical work on a facility for one of Silicon Valley's first chip fabricators, Fairchild Semiconductor.

CEI's data center division has been the centerpiece of its success since its creation in the mid-1990s, says John Boncher, the company's president and CEO. Boncher says CEI saw the potential of data centers even before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. It decided to expand its presence in the segment and to date has accumulated more than 5 million sq ft of floor design experience. Being based in Silicon Valley, with its again-booming tech economy, was fortuitous as well.

Boncher adds that CEI has been aggressively ramping up its data center and energy divisions for the past two years. For example, last year the company completed one of California's largest data centers and a related substation in Santa Clara for DuPont Fabros. The company also has moved into Texas and Oregon for data center projects.

To oversee the data center division, CEI in August brought on board Mike Coleman, a 23-year industry veteran of design-build and mission-critical facilities and boosted his staff to 35, including project managers, engineers and support staff. Coleman will split his time between Prineville and San Jose.

Through its energy alternatives division (EAD), CEI has worked with state electric utility giants Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) on solar projects in recent years.

One recently completed project—Copper Mountain Solar 2 in Boulder City, Nev.—was a success for all the parties involved, including the owner, San Diego-based Sempra Energy, and electricity buyer PG&E, according to Steve Finer, Sempra project manager. Finer says Cupertino Electric provided power delivery scope on the project and "was a pleasure to work with." He adds, "All the way up to management, they were very receptive to the process."

CEI's EAD completed a large, ground-mount solar photovoltaic farm for Southern California Edison. For PG&E, it also started construction on two utility-scale photovoltaic projects and completed two solar projects totaling 35 MW in central California.

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