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Amid funding cuts, Enfield manufacturer finds energy-efficiency program a worthy investment

BY Gregory Seay

11/5/2018
HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay
HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay
Manufacturer Ronald Rousseau, co-owner of Preferred Display Inc., points to one of the 925 new, energy-efficient LED lighting ballasts installed at his 215 Moody Road plant in Enfield.
Manufacturer Ronald Rousseau found an Enfield industrial building to replace the 65,000-square-foot Glastonbury edifice that once housed his family's production of acrylic retail countertop displays that was destroyed by fire in Nov. 2015.

Originally, Rousseau, co-owner with his brother of Preferred Display Inc., budgeted about $1 million to refit the previously vacant 115,000-square-foot manufacturing-distribution facility at 215 Moody Road, in the town's Hazardville section, with fresh paint and energy-efficient LED overhead lighting.

Turns out that was just the beginning — and just in time — of a wholesale energy-efficiency/sustainability makeover, including adding digitally monitored, more efficient equipment, at Preferred. By the start of work in May 2017 and completion last December, Rousseau doubled the company's renovation budget beyond lighting to include a high-capacity electric-service upgrade, plus more efficient compressed-air, dust-collection and waste-heat recovery systems.

With some technical hand-holding from Plainville engineering-services vendor Loureiro Engineering Associates LLC and electric-natural gas utility Eversource Energy, Preferred was on its way to a projected $65,000 in annual savings on just its lightening bill.

Preferred Display's path to energy efficiency is an example of the collaborations that have been underway for years between companies and utility-service providers like Eversource.

Preferred and other small and large commercial and household customers, Eversource officials say, have benefited from their participation in "Energize CT,'' a statewide energy-conservation program that offers rebates, financing and services for clean-energy improvements. (United Illuminating also participates.)

However, the program's future impact remains a big uncertainty.

Fewer participants have found their way into EnergizeCT programs this year due to a $117 million raid by state lawmakers on the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which is staked from a sliver of customers' monthly light bills.

The controversial raid, which prompted a lawsuit from the energy-efficiency industry, helped plug a hole in the state's General Fund budget.

However, it also "means Connecticut will do about half the electric efficiency it did in 2017," according to William Dornbos, advocacy director at Acadia Center, a New England nonprofit promoter of clean, efficient energy use.

"This is a significant step backwards,'' said Dornbos, who also chairs the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board, whose 15 members guide energy-efficiency funds and advise the state's utilities on ways to help ratepayers curb their energy use. "It means our energy system will be more expensive due to unnecessary energy waste, and many fewer utility customers — residents and businesses — will have access to energy-efficiency services and upgrades this year."

According to the efficiency board's 2017 annual report, efficiency programs in 2017 saved businesses $32 million annually in energy costs. Most of the savings came from lighting upgrades.

Dan Bakal, director of electric power at Boston energy sustainability advocate Ceres, says that while Connecticut has received high marks for its clean-energy policies, cutting funding threatens to slow that momentum.

"Energy efficiency is complicated,'' Bakal said, "in that it really does require support and incentives to help customers overcome the barriers."

Eversource in 2017 oversaw about 6,000 energy-conservation upgrades for Connecticut businesses of all sizes, said spokesman Mitch Gross. The utility estimates its Energize CT participants ultimately trim their electricity use by about 1 percent per year. For cash-strapped firms, the utility offers zero-percent financing for up to four years that customers repay via their monthly light bills.

Since the energy-fund cut, Gross says the utility has not seen a slowdown in customer requests for its energy-conservation audits/services.

"While their actions have made things challenging for us,'' Gross said, "our representatives are busy working with business and residential customers who continue to take advantage of the various energy-efficiency offerings and incentives."

The upgrades

Conservation increasingly is embraced by the state, regulators, environmentalists and others as a way to lessen demand on New England's energy grid to defray, or avoid, huge capital investments in new generation plants and energy-distribution networks. Fewer power plants also mean less atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide, heavy metals and other toxins.

Ceres in 2016 ranked Eversource tops for its efforts to help its New England ratepayers become more energy efficient, Bakal said. Eversource scored No. 1, based on 2014 data, for its relatively high ratios of energy savings to annual power sales, and was tops on its ratio of estimated volume of kilowatt hours saved during the long-term lifecycle of energy-saving measures its customers implemented.

For Eversource, teaming with Preferred and its technical advisers, Loureiro Engineering and Beacon Electric in Southington, was an opportunity to test new technologies and process upgrades. In fact, the Preferred makeover has become a regular showcase to other Eversource customers weighing similar energy-saving options.

"We do thousands of projects a year,'' said Andrew Brydges, Eversource account executive involved in Preferred's upgrades. "But projects with this level of comprehensiveness are rare.''

To start, Beacon installed 925 light-emitting-diode overhead lamps at the Moody Road facility. Many are motion controlled and replaced the building's aged, dim metal halide lighting ballasts. Though costlier, LED lights can run as long as 13 years, saving on maintenance, Eversource said.

Preferred also upgraded to 3,000-amp electric service to power lights, office and production equipment, including a laser for cutting acrylic sheets into fitted pieces used in assembling countertop displays for cosmetics retailer Sephora, Macy's and other sizable U.S. retailers.

Compressed air is key to Preferred's production, blowing away paper and acrylic shards and other debris from surfaces and materials in the packaging area. At Loureiro's urging, Preferred refitted its compressors with dryers, to minimize moisture that can mar finished product or eventually corrode hoses and fittings, Rousseau said.

At the building's rear, a larger, 800-square-foot machine room was added, housing Preferred's compressors, vacuum pumps, and heating, ventilation and cooling equipment. Waste heat the machinery generates, Rousseau said, is now redirected back inside the building on chilly days, curbing its heating budget.

In all, Rousseau says Preferred's energy savings and other benefits have been worth his investment of time and money.

The company's larger, revamped two-story building — once home to greeting cards-stationery supplier Olympia Sales LLC — allowed Preferred to consolidate in Enfield many of its several dozen employees previously based in a second location in northern New Jersey.

The energy upgrades also give Preferred, he said, the opportunity to pitch its "green'' side to clients, "to demonstrate we're socially conscious."

"We're not in the '70s anymore,'' he said. "The environment is important.''

There are other intangibles, Rousseau added. The bright lights, fresh paint and resurfaced shop floor make it a more pleasant place to work. About 130 workers are at Moody Road, with another 40 to 50 housed at a South Windsor facility.

"You can feel the difference and you can see the difference in the attitudes of our people," he said.