by NATHANIEL NELSON
The Behrens Manufacturing factory on the east side of town can be seen in a new light after a full-scale revamp of the facility’s lighting system was completed this past month. Behrens Manufacturing, an industrial company in Winona focused on the production and sale of steel pails and garbage bins, is one of the many companies working with the city on new sustainability projects under Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy plan, and this month completed its first big project toward energy conservation.
Bill Bellingham, plant manager at Behrens, explained that the local industrial giant’s initiative was extensive, but also fairly straightforward.
“We replaced all our fluorescent lights with LEDS,” Bellingham said.
The lights were installed between December 1 and December 21 at the Behrens plant, Bellingham said, and consist of a replacement of 1,764 individual lights throughout the facility. The initiative wasn’t an easy one, he added, and the installation took time but was worth it on multiple levels.
“We did it for two reasons: first, it’s the impact on the environment and reducing our carbon footprint. We’ll have 26,000 watts of energy saved each year. The second, it saved us money,” Bellingham said, adding that the lights also improved visibility in the factory, which was an unintended benefit.
In total, the project cost Behrens around $15,000 to replace all the lights in the facility. Bellingham explained that Behrens’ leaders worked with a company named Ideal Energy, which helped them look through options and rebates to find the least expensive option for the transition. They were led to make the change after they first began work with the city in mid 2018.
“The project started back in May or June,” Bellingham said. “[The city] did an energy evaluation for us, and looked into what we could do to lower our carbon footprint and lower our electric bill.”
The energy evaluation was part of the city’s partnership with Xcel Energy through the statewide program Partners in Energy (PiE). PiE is a program by Xcel to help communities become more sustainable in their energy consumption and move toward newer energy alternatives. The state of Minnesota requires energy companies to put a portion of their yearly revenue toward sustainability programs, which led to the formation of PiE.
The two-year program begins with an application project, where communities apply with their ideas and plans and wait for approval. Once approved, Xcel will join up with the communities and work to develop an energy action plan. According to John Howard, natural resource sustainability coordinator for the city of Winona, the city applied back in 2015, and was approved in March 2017. The planning phase then began, and Winona’s initiative started to take shape.
“For Winona, the Partners in Energy plan took the form of four focus areas: residents, small businesses, large and industrial business companies, and institutional buildings. In all cases we’re trying to get those entities to save energy and provide resources so they can undertake sustainability projects,” Howard explained. “Behrens fits into the large and industrial category.”
Each of the four categories have a different method, though they all start the same way –– with an energy audit. Representatives from Xcel will go to homes or businesses and examine their energy usage, and come up with ways to cut down on costs. Some examples include switching out light bulbs, looking with an infrared camera for locations with heat loss, and monitoring energy and water consumption.
“This summer, we went to almost every business in town and shared that there’s a program called Energy Smart, which is a free energy audit. Sixty-six businesses took the energy squad up on that audit,” Howard said.
Workshops are also planned for the next few months, Howard added, and his team is working on putting together a group of businesses to work on case studies of what other businesses have done. There are also plans to share resources and focus on solar energy to help reach the city’s eventual conservation goals.
“Our near-term goal is to reduce energy use by 10 percent by 2025, and that’s a city goal. Our larger goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. These are community-wide goals, so there’s no enforcement or mandatory aspects. But it’s what the city is trying to promote and trying to get to,” Howard said. He added that the goals are fairly inline with what other communities are aiming for, and while the carbon-neutral goal might be a bit more intense than other cities, it’s a place for Winona to strive.
“The next steps for us are to continue with our business outreach and really look at putting out case studies and share resources with businesses,” Howard said. Businesses are the main focus for the program, he explained, because they consume about 75 percent of the city’s energy. Institutions and residents will also remain a focus of the program, and other city initiatives will be put forward to help out. For example, Howard said, a community solar garden is something organizers are examining as a way to promote solar energy.
“It’s continuing what we’ve done. We’ll be reevaluating periodically to see if we’re meeting our goals, but it’s about staying the course, continuing what we’ve done for the past year,” Howard explained.
While the city continues to expand its sustainability program, Bellingham added that Behrens will continue to look for ways to become more sustainable in the long run. The lights, while important, were only the first step.
“It’s important for us to reduce our carbon footprint for future generations. We need to have some corporate responsibility to have our environment remain the same and remain non-polluted,” Bellingham said. “We’re going to continue to work to become a more sustainable manufacturer. Our next step is to work toward zero landfill, which will take us several years. But we will continue to look at other sources for energy and ways to be more environmentally friendly.”