Energy efficiency: Commonwealth Dairy saves on production costs

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Editor's Note: This story was originally released in a series of case studies showcasing farms, businesses, vendors, installers, and technical assistance providers who have made a difference with energy efficiency savings and renewable energy production — all of which are components for helping Vermont reach the renewable energy and environmental impact goals of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. Learn more at www.vtfarmtoplate.com.

BRATTLEBORO >> When German company, Ehrmann AG, partnered with Commonwealth Yogurt, LLC to expand to New England, they were impressed by Vermont's approach to energy efficiency. That, coupled with a wealth of dairy farms and yogurt enthusiasts, was enough to convince them to break ground in Brattleboro in 2009. Today, the Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy team sells yogurt under the local brand name Green Mountain Creamery and they also make private label yogurt products for retailers throughout the region and beyond.

A major overhead expense is energy, including propane and electricity. Maintaining an energy efficient facility is imperative for any manufacturer and has become even more important in the increasingly competitive yogurt market. Laying the groundwork early for maximum energy savings, Commonwealth Dairy began consulting with Efficiency Vermont in pursuit of efficiency in planning the state-of-the-art facility which now features extensive control systems and the latest in processing equipment. Energy savings in the first year were estimated to be $150,000 which is expected to result in an estimated $2.1 million in lifetime savings.

Commonwealth uses compressed air to move product from one processing point to another and to pressurize tanks with clean, filtered air to keep product fresh. One notable improvement adjusted the compressed air system, which yielded an annual savings in itself of $22,300. An analysis recognized the existing compressed air system was oversized and the purchase of a smaller, compressed air system fit daily operation needs and reserved the existing larger system as the backup.

A more efficient refrigeration system which includes a water-cooled chiller system with variable speeds allowed Commonwealth to meet process requirements while using less energy. Additional energy efficiency efforts included efficient motors, lighting, heating, and ventilation. Regardless of the size of the operation, employing energy efficiency strategies at a dairy processing facility is most effective when implementing energy saving techniques across various levels of production.

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These ongoing efficiency measures have opened up significant cash flow for Commonwealth, enabling them to expand their operations, distribute more yogurt, and hire more people. Commonwealth is also collaborating with other businesses to ship whey byproducts as biofuel. The byproducts are being used as animal feed for a nearby farmer and in a local biodigester. This effort not only decreases the pressure on the local wastewater treatment facility but it also helps reduce the waste stream and increases the sustainability of their business operations.

Energy can be a significant portion of operating costs for dairy processors and using this energy more efficiently can have a great impact on a processor's bottom line.

"Financially speaking, managing our energy and reducing our usage is hugely important to the success of our company. Energy is one of the top, if not the top, overhead cost that we're faced with," said Commonwealth Dairy's CFO, Ben Johnson. "I know when I am starting any new project in the facility, trying to engage the Efficiency Vermont team to get a good review of what we're trying to do is part of the project kick off. This allows us to get good suggestions on something we could actually act on, if appropriate."

Learn more about energy efficiency support for farms and food system businesses at www.efficiencyvermont.com/ag.

JJ Vandette, of Efficiency Vermont, is the chairman of Farm to Plate Energy Cross-cutting Team.


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