Winning Design-Bid-Build Projects: Page 3 of 3

Many RFP requirements are familiar to solar contractors. For example, you need to show proof of insurance, carry a construction bond, show relevant experience, provide a list of qualifications and so forth. When listing experience and qualifications, the goal is to show that the bidder has completed similar projects in the last 3 to 5 years. Do not assume that the client will automatically disqualify your company if it does not have experience with projects that are exactly the same as the one under bid. With a competitive bid and good references, a less experienced bidder can win the contract.

Other RFP requirements are unique to public works projects. For example, you may need to document your commitment to fair employment practices, comply with prevailing wage requirements or certify that you do not have any conflicts of interest. You may also need to identify subcontractors or major equipment vendors. In some cases, your company may need to meet specific registration requirements to submit a bid. In California, for example, contractors must register with the Department of Industrial Relations to be eligible to bid on a public works project.

Another option is to outsource bid preparation, if you plan to bid regularly on public works projects with a high enough value to justify the expense of outsourcing. Several companies provide this service to contractors. The bidder still needs to prepare the cost estimate, but the service provider prepares the other tedious parts of the bid package. I recommend that you start by doing the bids yourself to build an understanding of how they are put together. Then you can determine whether you want to make an effort to win more of these projects.

Bid Evaluation

Solicitors evaluate bids for public works projects according to well-defined rules that are intended to level the playing field for bidders. While the lowest price wins the day, agencies may favor or even set aside contracts for certain official business categories. They will also screen out any bids that do not satisfy the RFP requirements and, in many cases, any bidders who do not meet minimum requirements for experience or qualifications.

Diverse or small business certification. Many government entities have established goals for business diversity that seek to improve inclusion in public spending by offering more economic opportunities for local businesses, small businesses in general or those owned specifically by disadvantaged groups. For example, an agency might have a scoring system in place that accounts for women-, minority- or disabled veteran–owned business certification. Other entities may have set-asides available exclusively for diverse or small businesses. To qualify for most of these business categories, you must meet specific requirements and complete a certification process. While this process requires a major investment of time that you must finish prior to bidding on projects, such certifications often improve bid competitiveness. It is possible to qualify for more than one certification.

Responsive bids and responsible bidders. While these concepts sound similar, they describe different qualification criteria. A responsive bid is one that meets all of the requirements outlined in the bid documents, which means that the bidder must deliver it on time to the correct location, and it must include all of the required forms, certifications and requested information. Failure to meet these minimum requirements results in a nonresponsive bid, which is generally grounds for disqualification.

The process of determining whether a bidder is responsible is more subjective. A responsible bidder has the capabilities and qualifications required to complete the scope of work. To make a judgment about bidder responsibility, agencies evaluate prior experience, references, financial qualifications and trustworthiness. If a purchaser finds a bidder lacking in any of these areas, the agency may decide that the contractor is not a responsible bidder and eliminate it from consideration.

Ranking bids. At the end of this process, the bid solicitor ranks all the responsive bids, from the lowest cost to the highest, and contracts the qualified bidder with the lowest bid price to execute the project. Depending on the project scale, the evaluation process can take hours, days or even months. If a losing bidder feels the solicitor did not fairly evaluate its bid, that bidder can appeal the decision. In some cases, the issuing agency determines that none of the bids are acceptable and rejects them all. This often results in a project redesign with the goal of reducing costs; once the new design is complete, the bidding process starts over.

Private Sector Projects

In today’s market, public sector entities are most likely to use the D-B-B process to select solar contractors. However, the commercial construction industry has long relied on this process in private sector settings. Therefore, it is entirely possible that you will see more private sector requests for D-B-B solar projects in the future.

It is generally more difficult to find opportunities to bid private sector projects. Rather than advertise bid opportunities to the general public, private sector entities tend to reach out directly to a short list of preferred providers. These are often contractors that they have worked with in the past or that their architecture or engineering firm has recommended. The process of evaluating proposals in the private sector is also less formal and transparent. In this scenario, customers are free to accept whichever proposal they prefer based on their own judgment.

Marvin Hamon / Hamon Engineering / Alameda, CA / hamonengineering.com

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