INSIGHT ON: Energy – Winds of change

Posted on Aug 1, 2013 :: Energy , Insight On
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Wind turbines outside Menasha Packaging’s home office in Neenah provide power for 115 workers at the facility. Photo courtesy Menasha Packaging LLC

The winds of change are clearly visible to anyone traveling on Highway 41 through the Fox Cities.

“We installed five 20-kilowatt wind turbines to supply power to our corporate office and adjoining plant here in Neenah,” says Morgan Wiswall, purchasing initiatives and sustainability manager at Menasha Packaging.

The turbines generate about 150,000 kW hours annually, enough to provide electricity for lights, computers and office equipment for the home office facility’s 115 employees. Erected in 2010, Menasha Packaging’s five turbines remain the largest wind installation at a business in Northeast Wisconsin.

“Sustainability is one of our four key strategies, so a big part of what we’re doing is around energy, carbon emission reductions, and this is certainly a component of that,” says Wiswall.

The wind turbines were manufactured by another Northeast Wisconsin business, Renewegy LLC of Oshkosh. Renewegy specializes in making turbines for more urban settings, rather than the large wind towers that are part of utility-scale wind farms and are about four times larger than Menasha Packaging’s 115-feet tall turbines.

You don’t have to travel far to see another Northeast Wisconsin record holder in sustainable energy initiatives. Just keep going north on Highway 41 for about 30 miles. When you get to KI in Green Bay, look up. The largest solar photovoltaic (PV) system in the region sits atop KI’s design and development facility, about a block away from the corporate headquarters. It is composed of 480 PV solar panels, covering about 22,820 square feet of rooftop space, which convert sunlight into electricity. The array of solar panels, installed last January, produces approximately 152,640 kilowatt hours (kWh) of clean energy annually while displacing 108 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In simpler terms, that’s enough energy to provide electricity for 13 households or the equivalent of sequestering carbon from 88 acres of forest.

“It’s been a wonderful success,” says Norman Nance, vice president of environmental initiatives at KI. “We actually received a $300 check return recently because we’re generating more energy than we’re using in that smaller facility, especially in the peak of summer.”

Shedding light on your greens

While KI and Menasha Packaging may have the most visible displays of green energy, you likely see sustainable energy at use every day and may not even notice it. For example, if you’ve ever shopped for produce at Festival Foods, the lettuce was likely illuminated by green energy.

“Festival has increased the number of light pipes – tubes that direct light from outside into the store – installed in each of its new builds since 2008 when we piloted about a dozen green features at our Manitowoc location,” said Frank Abnet, Festival’s vice president of store operations, in a recent article published by Progressive Grocer, a trade publication. “Reclaimed heat from the refrigeration rack units is used to heat the store’s water and warm the back room. The store’s compacter is solar-powered. Outside the store, a white roof reflects heat in the summer to keep the building cool,” Abnet added.

The light tubes, as well as Festival’s high-efficiency fluorescent parking lot lights, come from Orion Energy Systems, Manitowoc.

The green behind going green

As encouraging as all the green progress is, the reality is that implementing sustainable energy systems is a significant investment. Both Menasha Packaging’s wind turbines and KI’s solar panels were substantially subsidized through grants as part of Wisconsin’s “Focus on Energy” program. Still, both companies, which engage in numerous other sustainability practices, say “going green” doesn’t have to cost a lot. It can be as simple as flipping a switch.

“You can focus on energy reduction just by turning off your computers when you leave work,” says Nance. “It’s amazing the amount of energy consumed by leaving computers on over the weekend.”

For a company with just 100 employees, a tiny fraction of KI’s workforce, that simple switch can add up to tens of thousands of dollars in savings each year.