Solar Power Fuels Energy Savings At Letterhead Press

Apr 1, 2016 12:21:00 PM

April 1, 2016 - Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership

Letterhead Press Inc., a New Berlin print finisher and packaging manufacturer, has embraced renewable energy as means of controlling rising energy costs and promoting sustainability.

The company has installed a 337-kilowatt array, one of the largest solar fields in the state, to provide about 75 percent of its peak electricity demand and 25 percent of its overall annual needs.

“We all know that the cost of electricity is going up dramatically,” Letterhead Press President Michael Graf said. “My goal is to make this company 100 percent self-sufficient. Some people might think that’s crazy, but five years from now I believe people will look back and say we had a really good idea.”

Letterhead no longer wanted to rely entirely on an electricity grid that Graf described as “kind of unreliable and definitely very expensive.”

“Producing energy on site makes a lot more sense,” Graf said.

The array, which consists of 1,300 solar panels, was erected on a parking lot behind the Letterhead Press plant at 16800 W. Ryerson Road.

Letterhead Press sought the assistance of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership in its effort to become more sustainable in its operations.

“We reviewed Letterhead Press’ plan to implement a solar system and validated the company’s energy calculations,” said Herb Hannam, manufacturing specialist at the WMEP.

The WMEP’s involvement ensured the proper scope for the project, according to John Davis, continuous improvement manager at Letterhead Press.

“Herb crunched the numbers and made it right-sized and gave us the feeling of comfort in terms of the size and the dimension of the project,” Davis said.

SunPeak, a Madison commercial solar developer, installed the panels on the Letterhead site.

The Letterhead Press project is the largest solar installation in Waukesha County and was the second-largest in Wisconsin in 2015, said Matt Bellehumeur, sales development director for SunPeak. The solar array will reduce Letterhead Press’ energy costs by 18 percent and save the company about $1.5 million over the life of the system, he added.

Overall, Letterhead Press now has the 10th largest solar installation in Wisconsin, according to Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that promotes clean energy strategies.

“It’s really incredible,” Huebner said. “Solar really is a tool for competitive businesses.”

A grant from Wisconsin Focus on Energy, a statewide energy efficiency and renewable resources program, supported the solar project.

The Letterhead Press system was one of 48 awarded incentive dollars under the renewable energy program but “by far the largest,” said Katherine Mitchell, program lead for Focus on Energy.

“They were also one of the most cost-effective,” Mitchell said. “We award incentive dollars based on overall cost effectiveness and optimization of the system and generally on what the impact is on the operation of the business.”

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who attended an event at the Letterhead Press plant marking the solar installation, said she is “bullish” on renewable energy.

“Thinking outside the box when it comes to having energy production one day become completely independent I think is very forward thinking,” she said.

Letterhead Press also has cut its energy use by 40 percent through various projects in recent years. The solar project was the next logical step to make Letterhead Press’ products and services more economically competitive and environmentally sustainable.

“By taking 25 percent of our electricity, and we use a lot of electricity, and locking that in at a certain price for five years, and then once you’ve gotten your ROI (return on investment) locked in, then you are producing $50,000 or $60,000 worth of electricity per year for free,” Davis said.

Buckley Brinkman, executive director and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity, the coordinating organization for Wisconsin’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership system, said the initiative by Letterhead Press makes a business case for sustainability efforts.

“It’s the leadership of places like Letterhead Press that really teaches the world that sustainability can be profitable,” Brinkman said. “I think this is one of the shining examples in Wisconsin of public, private and concerned organizations working together to really make an impact.”

Kleefisch also applauded Letterhead Press for efforts to grow its business, including tapping into the export market, by taking part in the WMEP’s ExporTech program.

“We know that the graduates of ExporTech are truly embracing this insurance policy for manufacturing in Wisconsin and making sure they are diversifying their customer base,” Kleefisch said. “If demand is down in one country, perhaps it will be up in another one.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation set up trade venture trips to Mexico and Canada for Letterhead Press to assist the company in attracting new customers.

Letterhead Press leveraged various opportunities, including the WMEP’s ExporTech training, to develop an appropriate exporting strategy, said Mark Rhoda-Reis, international business director for the WEDC.

“They just don’t go after any market they can, but the markets they should. They think strategically and act strategically,” Rhoda-Reis said.

Letterhead Press and the WMEP’s involvement extends even beyond the solar project and exporting initiatives. They have worked together on other initiatives, including lean manufacturing and a current recycling project.

“We are going to be recycling our scrap paper right off of our presses as opposed to moving it around and wasting extra energy and labor,” Davis said. “The WMEP has been helpful to us on a number of different projects.”

This article by Rich Rovito was published on April 1, 2016 for WMEP Manufacturing Solutions

It also appeared in the Milwaukee BizTimes on November 15, 2016.