Efficient furnace called EnergyRight

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Walker Die Casting, the epitome of the Lewisburg Business Park manufacturers, is installing two energy efficient furnaces, the company president and city electric system manager said Monday when asked about a Tennessee Valley Authority program.

"Over a period of time, it will save them a chunk of money," Lewisburg Electric Service General Manager Richard Turner said while responding to questions about TVA's EnergyRight Solutions for Business and Industry. "They will be reimbursed by saving the energy every month."

In recent months, TVA worked with Walker Die Casting toward installation of energy efficient furnaces to melt raw materials, Turner said.

Walker Die Casting President John Walker confirmed it.

"We did install an energy saving furnace, that's true," Walker said in a telephone interview when he was asked if the energy efficient system cost more money. "It was probably more expensive, but it wasn't too bad. It was a pretty good deal."

Walker and Billy Spivey, the plant's maintenance manager, agree on a finer point. It's about the relative value of the EnergyRight program.

"We may recognize a savings," Spivey said, "but I don't think we'll be making many more trips to the bank because of it."

Walker Die Casting employs about 500 people at the plant that manufactures castings for the automotive industry, mainly transmission castings that are sold mostly to American companies - Chrysler and General Motors, for example.

"Back when we were booming, it was somewhere around 700, I think," he said,

Ironically, Walker said he does not expect reopening of the production line at GM's assembly plant in Spring Hill to improve his business, but in recent months he has "added some people" to his workforce.

Turner reported from LES records that the contract with Walker Die Casting was for $90,000 that went toward the cost of the two new furnaces and their installation. There was no specific price tag available for the two new furnaces during telephone interviews Monday and Tuesday. That's largely because Walker is building them, so there is no retail price.

Still, the plan in the TVA program is to cut Walker's energy consumption by a significant amount per month.

The company had already installed a much larger furnace.

That was a "lock and key" deal for a furnace that burns fossil fuels, Spivey said. Again, the two new furnaces are being built by Walker Die Casting for its own operation.

The big furnace melts raw materials faster and the two electric furnaces will hold the molten metal so it's ready for production.

This will make Walker more competitive because it can produce a product faster, Turner said.

"Walker had to do a significant amount of adjusting to his building on the front end," the utility chief said.

From the electric power utility's perspective, Turner said, "We'll be furnishing less power to them which will help us because we'll be able to sell it to someone else."

Furthermore, "It will prevent TVA from having to add more capacity for generation, which is extremely expensive," Turner said, calling it a "win-win situation."

Walker and Spivey agreed that there will be some savings, but Spivey questions that because of the amount of paperwork required for the program. Walker indicated he is naturally suspicious of government programs.

"TVA offers an energy savings credit," Spivey said of what's seen as a complicated program.

The savings for the industry is "compared to prior and post" electric usage, Spivey said. "It's not that significant."

"TVA's part is for energy savings," he said, apparently acknowledging a point made by Turner. Efficient use of the power that's being generated now avoids, or at least delays, the need to spend money on expansion of the generating system.

And, Spivey points out, "The part that we're participating in doesn't exist any more. They've doubled the credit."

A recent press release from TVA states: "The Tennessee Valley Authority and local electric utilities are offering a 100 percent increase in cash incentive payments to businesses and industries that participate in the program."

Turner acknowledged that the program has doubled the incentive, explaining that the pilot program that included Walker Die Casting was found to be successful. As a result, he said, it was increased.

Meanwhile, Walker is a fiscal conservative who's looked at the TVA program from a broader perspective, including TVA's switch from coal to natural gas at its generating plants.

"It may be clean, but they won't be able to work because there won't be any jobs for them," he said, turning to what confounds him about the switch from coal to natural gas. "We're not going to burn coal here, but we'll let them ship it overseas and let China burn it."

Walker is also pointing to "Obama regulations [and] this EPA stuff" that have restricted business.

"I'm not a big fan of these programs," Walker said. "They'd do better than shut down coal plants and use natural gas.

"TVA's got problems when they pay you to use less and at the same time they're giving grants to get people to use electricity, so it doesn't make much sense," he said.

"Everybody thinks TVA is a cheap producer [but] it's cheaper in other states in the region.

"I know South Carolina is one [state with lower electric rates] because they're trying to recruit me to move to South Carolina," Walker said.

Before the interview with Walker returned to the subject of the TVA program, he said he didn't mind if it was reported that South Carolina economic developers have been trying to get him to move to that state.

Walker estimated - without checking records - that he might realize electric rates that were 25-30 percent lower than what he's been paying here.

Asked if he felt that it was no less than 20 percent better, he replied that, yes, it's more than 20 percent lower.

"But this is just a small part of our electric bill," he said of what will be consumed by the two new energy-efficient furnaces. "And our electric bill is plenty. As a matter of fact it's been at record levels this summer.

"It's probably the biggest obstacle to growing this place," he continued. "You're trying to keep your costs down and you have to fool with energy prices like that.

"It's terrible because we're being recruited to move," Walker said, "and I don't think it's helped us any."

The TVA press release explains that the federally-owned utility "has made increased energy efficiency a key part of meeting power demand in the Tennessee Valley in the years ahead," said Bob Balzar, TVA vice president of Energy Efficiency and Demand Response.

"Achieving our corporate vision for providing cleaner, low-cost energy requires ambitious plans to increase energy efficiency," Balzar said. "We want to lead the Southeast in increased energy efficiency, and we can accomplish that through programs that work in partnership with local power companies. Energy saving programs help keep overall costs lower for everyone in the region."

EnergyRight Solutions for Business and Industry, offered through participating local power companies, also provides access to site-specific expert evaluations for energy efficiency improvements.

Many of the expert energy efficiency evaluations offered through the program are free. TVA and local power companies often share the cost of more complex assessments for large businesses. The assessments offer fact-based information for improving energy efficiency and reducing operating costs.

Balzar said TVA expects more changes in the near future to further encourage energy efficiency.

See related TVA story page A4