Power Blowing in the Wind

BY LORNA MIDGELOW:

If you have driven along Route 104 in the town of Ontario lately, you may have noticed the imposing, but strangely elegant wind turbine. It is generating electricity for the production of molded plastic components for the automotive, medical, office equipment, consumer products and industries. These innovative, and yet unassuming products, hold the key to a truly remarkable green business success story.

When Bob Bechtold, the owner of Harbec Plastics was turned down for the 29th time requesting a bank loan to implement his dream of using renewable energy at his injection molding company, you might have thought he would have given up. To his credit, and to the benefit of all living and working in Upstate New York, he did not give up. He tried one more time and was successful.

With the foresight of the banks and development funds, Harbec Plastics is producing more than enough electricity on-site to run the plant - at 50 per cent of the cost of electricity from the grid. At the same time his company is reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the leading source of global warming and acid rain causing emissions by up to 40 per cent or by 375 tons per year (equivalent of 646 acres of forest). So why was Bechtold so persistent? The project made great sense from an economic point of view. He could buy electricity from the grid at 10.5 cents per kWh, but with the new system, a hybrid wind / natural gas-fired micro turbine system, he can generate his own electricity for as little as 5 to 6 cents per kWh. After the payback period of less than eight years, Harbec Plastics will save $100,000 per year on its electricity bill.

Included in that same cost of 5 to 6 cents per kWh, Harbec can now use the heat generated by the micro turbines for heating and cooling. In addition, he can predict his future energy costs with a higher quality product due to the now controlled internal environment. This was a truly win-win project - cheaper electricity with free air conditioning and great environmental benefits. This is just one of many green business initiatives that Bechtold has instigated at Harbec Plastics. Through his actions, he is making the company more profitable, reducing the environmental impacts of his product and providing better working conditions for his employees.

In his bid to reduce waste to the nth degree, he has even created jobs where none previously existed. He helped to start up Ultimate Plastics, a company in Palmyra, primarily to take Harbec's plastic molding process waste material, and turn it into plastic lumber which is primarily used in low grade construction applications.

The good news for other companies in Upstate New York, is that Harbec, like a big sister fighting all the battles for a younger sibling, provides a real-life green business model that businesses and lenders alike can draw upon to prove that there is relatively little risk and many benefits associated with being green in business.

But there is even better news. There are many state- funded initiatives that can help make such decisions easier. For example, under the NYSERDA Smart Loan Program, designated energy saving improvements can qualify for a 4.5 per cent interest rate reduction used to finance improvements. Also, the Empire State Development, through its Environmental Management Investment Group, can help businesses improve productivity and competitiveness through waste reduction, pollution prevention and other initiatives that enhance environmental performance.

Harbec Plastics gives us just one example of "what's good for the environment is good for business." That is the motto of the Rochester Green Business Network (RGBN) - a newly formed organization that is promoting good environmental management in the area. RGBN is here to help your company do just that. We can put you in touch with the right people and organizations that can help with ideas and help fund projects that make sense from a business point of view but also have environmental benefits.

Lorna Midgelow is an environmental management consultant with ENVIRON Int'l Corporation and volunteers her time as the Project Director of the Rochester Green Business Network - an integral part of the Center for Environmental Information, a long-established non-profit environmental organization.

This guest essay was printed in the Messenger Post Newspapers.

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