Retrofit to help business compete

Posted Oct. 17, 2010, at 7:46 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — When October rolls around, the heating bills at GAC Chemical in Searsport start to rise and rise — but a new energy retrofit for the whole facility, which is happening with the help of Efficiency Maine, should mean that the company’s costs stay a lot flatter in the coming years.

“We have competitors outside of Maine that have access to natural gas,” GAC Chemical President David Colter said Friday afternoon. “This gives us a level playing field.”

The $630,000 energy retrofit, which just began and should be completed by the end of the year, also makes the company more sustainable, he said.

“It’s an opportunity to preserve the jobs at our site in Searsport,” Colter said.

Between 55 and 60 people work at the Kidder Point facility, which is the largest industrial manufacturer in Waldo County, according to a press release from Efficiency Maine. It was founded as a fertilizer facility in the 1930s or ’40s and was purchased by GAC in 1994.

The Efficiency Maine program, which is funded by electricity ratepayers, was established in 2002 with the goals of saving energy, reducing energy costs, helping the environment and promoting sustainable economic development. According to its website, every dollar spent through its programs has generated nearly $3 in lifetime economic benefits.

Efficiency Maine has just completed a grant contract to GAC Chemical for $314,000, or half the price of the energy retrofit. The funds were made possible by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effort by 10 states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The chemical company will pay for the remainder of the work, which will save approximately 275,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil, which is enough to heat 247 homes for a year, and 223,861 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is sufficient to power 35 homes for a year.

The plant manufactures chemicals for water and wastewater treatment, products for the paper industry and some food and pharmaceutical chemicals, Colter said.

“A lot of our manufacturing processes require heat and steam,” he said. “No. 6 fuel oil is expensive. So anything that we can do to become more efficient in our energy usage will be more beneficial in the long run for the facility.”

To realize those energy savings, the company will install new systems to recycle steam from the manufacturing processes to heat water, will optimize boiler controls, update lighting and insulate pipes throughout the plant. According to Colter, the plant will also have the opportunity to burn biofuel, some of which could come from Maine producers.

“GAC Chemical was among the top projects in a very competitive round of funding,” said Ian Burnes, program manager at Efficiency Maine, in a press release issued Thursday. “GAC was awarded the grant on the basis of their energy savings, the private matching dollars they contributed and the impact on the company’s long-term economic sustainability.”

Colter said that the grant program came at the right time for his company, which had just partnered with Honeywell’s Automation and Control Solutions to identify possible energy efficiency improvement savings.

“The Honeywell program coupled with Efficiency Maine was really a path to success to get the project off the ground,” he said.

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