During the depths of America’s recession in November 2009, managers at Benteler Automotive’s plant in Galesburg launched a “treasure hunt” for energy. They came in on a Saturday morning and began to scour the factory for signs of wasted electricity and natural gas.
“We were looking for any lights that were on and listening for motors running,” said Chris Collins, manager of the facility that builds chassis systems and employs about 260 workers. “Anything that was on when we didn’t need it, we wanted to figure out how to turn it off.”
The Benteler team struck it rich that day, uncovering a myriad of possibilities to conserve energy and cut the plant’s utility bills. Consumers Energy has helped the global automotive supplier turn those ideas into a treasure trove of savings to improve the company’s bottom line.
Last fall, Consumers Energy provided Benteler with more than $152,000 in energy efficiency incentives that offset a $700,000 investment to upgrade the lighting and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at the auto company’s plant.
The projects paid off for Benteler, which reduced its electricity consumption by 19 percent and slashed natural gas usage by 41 percent in the first year following the improvements. That translated to roughly $400,000 in savings on the company’s utility bills.
“That’s a lot of money, especially in the auto industry where profit margins have been pretty slim,” Collins said. “We wouldn’t have done these projects without the incentives. They allowed us to justify a shorter payback on the projects and that made it easier to get capital for the improvements.”
The incentive payment is part of Consumers Energy’s Business Solutions energy efficiency programs, which awarded $11.3 million in incentives in 2010 to help 2,450 Michigan commercial and industrial customers complete projects to become more energy efficient. The customers ranged from schools and manufacturing plants to hospitals and hotels.
Statewide, these projects are saving the participating customers an estimated $15.4 million per year in energy costs. In addition, they are saving 124.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity and more than 322,000 thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of natural gas annually. That’s enough energy to serve about 14,650 residential electric customers and about 3,350 residential natural gas customers.
Consumers Energy launched its energy efficiency programs in response to Michigan’s 2008 energy reform law, which requires utilities to help customers reduce electricity use by 5.5 percent and natural gas use by 3.85 percent by 2015.
The company is on track to meet those goals and exceeded the law’s second-year savings targets. In fact, the company’s electric programs delivered 143 percent above the target and the natural gas programs delivered 144 percent above the target.
Benteler made a series of upgrades to the Galesburg plant. The company installed about 500 high-efficient fluorescent lights, installed a web-based HVAC system that monitors and regulates the temperature inside the plant and added variable-frequency drives that adjust the power needed to collect dust and ventilate from the facility.
“The incentive payment made it possible for them to clear financial hurdles and make some of these projects doable,” said Todd Duncan, the Grand Rapids-based senior corporate account manager who works with Benteler.
“But the long-term customer value benefit for Benteler is the energy savings they will realize year after year. This is a pretty significant reduction in their energy costs, which is huge for any business, but especially for an automotive supplier in a competitive marketplace.”
— Todd Schulz