Originally posted in Marketplace 15 June 2004 | by Stephen Heins, The Word Merchant

Companies throughout Northeast Wisconsin are finding that one of the fastest ways to save on energy costs is to use less of it in the first place. Those same companies have found the best way to use less energy is to invest in new, more energy efficient equipment.

One of those companies is Neenah-based J.J. Keller and Associates. In 2000, the publisher and seller of safety and regulatory compliance-related products commissioned Focus on Energy, a statewide program to improve energy efficiency, to perform an energy audit and implement recommendations.

Part of a Program

“We’ve always been an energy-conscious company. Reducing energy consumption lowers our overhead costs, and those savings are then passed on to our customers; that makes us more competitive in the marketplace. It’s just a smart business decision,” says Jeffrey P. Lau, Keller’s corporate manager for procurement and facilities.

Once implemented, the recommendations made by Focus on Energy saved Keller about $70,000 in annual energy savings by reducing consumption 16 percent. This was while it increased staff by about 10 percent and growing sales by about 24 percent over the past four years.

The first step the company took was to upgrade the chillers used to cool the company’s printing press areas. Seven large, air-cooled reciprocating chillers were replaced with a single water-cooled, closed-loop central chiller. This reduced annual energy consumption by about 375,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and more than 4, 100 therms of natural gas. This one step saves the company about $23,000 per year.

“We see the biggest savings during winter because we can use the cold air outside – rather than an electric compressor – to cool the glycol loop. Unlike our previous system, the new chiller is a closed- loop system, so the dry winter air doesn’t come into the pressroom and we can maintain the high level of humidity we need to operate the presses,” Lau said.

The chiller in the company’s corporate office was also replaced with a more energy efficient model to handle Keller’s 30,000-square- foot office area.

The company also replaced older, inefficient lighting in its warehouse and manufacturing facilities with Energy StarR qualified lighting fixtures. The fixtures also create a brighter workspace for employees as reflectors direct more light downward to the plant floor, where it’s needed.

Traditional exit signs with incandescent bulbs were replaced with Energy Star-qualified signs that employ light emitting diodes. The signs use five watts of energy or less per face, compared to 40 watts per face for typical signs.

The changes resulted in Keller reducing energy consumption by about 1.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity – enough to power 130 average Wisconsin homes, according to Focus on Energy calculations.

The company also uses Focus on Energy to help in its ongoing education and program evaluation efforts.

Employees receive regular training, updates on Keller’s energy saving measures and information about the benefits of energy efficiency through its newsletter, posters placed throughout its facilities and updates from the company’s management. This keeps employees up to date on ways each can do his or her part to reduce energy consumption.

Owners Monitor Progress

Company officials at the top, including owners Robert Keller, president and James Keller, executive vice president, review energy use and energy reduction with Keller’s facilities department quarterly. Changes are then made as needed to keep the company on track.

Implementation of the energy saving measures helped J.J. Keller earn ISO 14001 certification, meaning the company meets a set of voluntary environmental management systems standards set by the International Organization for Standardization.

“We feel it’s our responsibility as good corporate citizens to help protect our natural resources, and our ISO 14001 certification is a symbol of that commitment. Achieving that certification was greatly assisted by the advice, expertise and financial assistance we received from Focus on Energy,” Lau says.

The measures taken by Keller prevent the emission of more than 3 million pounds of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, or the equivalent of removing 210 cars from the road or planting 400 acres of trees.

Another way industrial and distribution companies have saved energy is by installing the products of Orion Energy Systems in their manufacturing and distribution facilities. Over the past couple of years, companies throughout Northeast Wisconsin have saved about half the cost it used to take to fight their facilities. Some examples:

* Pewaukee-based Quad/Graphics, the largest privately-held commercial printer in the world. The company has committed to installing the illuminator, Orion’s lead product that uses electronic vs. magnetic ballasts and reflective materials to maximize the fighting output of the fluorescent fixtures.

“Our employees are benefiting from better-quality light, and the community is benefiting from a reduction in electrical use and its associated impacts,” says Thomas Quadracci, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics.

When all of the company’s nationwide facilities are converted, the company expects to save about $50,000 per week by reducing its energy consumption by 35 million kilowatt hours per year. According to a formula used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that will take three megawatts of power off the electrical grid, or enough to power 3,750 homes per year.

The deal with the company has been pivotal for Orion. “We refer to our history as BQ and AQ – or before Quad and after Quad,” says Steve Heins, Orion’s vice president of communications and government relations.

The partnership with the company has elevated Orion’s profile and helped it gain customers from Quad/Graphic’s competitors.

“We’re also installing fixtures in RR Donnelly facilities. We hear a lot that companies hear about a competitor installing our fixtures and we need to do it to keep up,” Heins says.

* Bemis Manufacturing Co., the Sheboygan Falls-based maker of toilet seats and other plastic composite products. Bemis installed Orion fixtures throughout its 2 million squarefoot campus in this small Sheboygan County community.

All told, Bemis is saving $317,000 by reducing its electricity demand by 6.3 million kilowatt hours per year. “Metering the before and after results of the new lighting, Bemis has been able to confirm more than 50 percent in energy savings. We were comfortable completing this retrofit, especially with the favorable response from our employees as the overall improvement to their working environment,” says Bemis spokesman, Brian Henne.

The moves have taken about 8.5 percent of demand off the Sheboygan Falls municipal power grid, according to Heins.

* Qualheim’s True Value hardware store in Shawano. Heins says that Orion has done retrofits in businesses ranging in size from a cabinetmakers shop and a drycleaner to the very largest of manufacturing facilities. The hardware seller installed about 500 of the Orion fixtures, saving about half on its cost of electricity used to light the store while.

“This project was a no-brainer for us. In fact, we expect a three- year payback on the project, plus we are getting on average 45 percent more light in the store,” says Willis Qualheim, the store’s owner.

* Pepsi-Cola Northeast in Green Bay The long-time bottler installed about 100 of the Illuminator fixtures, reducing its lighting consumption to about 78,000 from 158,000 kilowatt hours per year.

“Besides saving a significant amount of energy, we have improved the fighting in our workplace, which helps with product inspection and overall productivity” says Jim Herber, one of the owners of the bottler.

Other companies that have instaffed Orion fixtures include Tecumseh Products Co. in New Holstein; The Toro Co.’s facilities in Tomah and Plymouth; Wisconsin Film and Bag in Shawano; Bay Towel in Green Bay; Stora Enso’s Stevens Point facility; and grocery seller Fresh Brands.