Flathead Electric, Plum Creek Team up for Energy Efficiency

By Beacon Staff

Flathead Electric Cooperative presented Plum Creek Timber Company with a $386,635 check on Aug. 28 as part of an energy efficiency program sponsored by Bonneville Power Administration. The timber company recently installed an upgraded compressed air system at the Columbia Falls sawmill that will save an estimated 1,765,185 kilowatt-hours per year.

“By not using (that power), we don’t have to buy the power and those savings are sustainable for years,” said Flathead Electric key accounts representative Don Newton. “Even though it’s an industrial project, it’s better for residential and commercial members because it keeps our costs lower and we pass that savings on to all of our members.”

Plum Creek Vice President of Northwest Manufacturing Tom Ray said the air compressor upgrades have been in development for nearly two years. Air compressors are what run and power the entire mill. In the past, the compressor, located in the basement of the mill, would only produce a set amount of energy. Ray said sometimes it was too much and other times too little. Now, with the new air compressors, it can produce energy to meet the mill’s demands. It is also in its own building so that if there was a fire inside the sawmill, the air compressors would be unharmed. The project cost more than $500,000 and included the insulation of a new 300 horsepower variable frequency drive air compressor, advanced digital controls, a 1,500 gallon receiver and an assortment of peripheral equipment. The upgrade will save about 1.7 million kilowatt-hours of power per year. According to Newton, the average house uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours of power annually.

“We had some old technology that wasn’t energy efficient and with the new technology, we’re saving about $50,000 annually (in the lumber mill),” said lumber manager Greg Grace.

Plum Creek was one of the first industrial operations in the Northwest to participate in the Flathead Electric and BPA Energy Smart Industrial Program, which provides incentives and rebates to companies that improve their infrastructure. So far the company has completed 11 custom projects for an estimated annual energy savings of more than 13 million kilowatt hours and has received incentives totaling more than $2.1 million. Improvements have been made at all of Plum Creek’s local properties, including the Columbia Falls medium density fiberboard, sawmill and plywood plants and its Evergreen complex.

Newton said the cooperative is working with other local industries to implement new energy saving technology, including F. H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co.

“Our goal is to encourage other members to invest in technologies that will help them achieve energy efficiencies and reduce costs,” Newton said. “We consider this project to be a great example of what can be accomplished.”

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