Quesnel River Pulp

Business case "on the shelf" pays off

Nina Winham
For bchydro.com

"I can honestly say I don't believe we'd ever have done a motor study," remembers Andrew Generous, the former Energy Manager with Quesnel River Pulp (QRP). "We wouldn't have thought of it, it wasn't on our map. But once the idea was put forward, we realized it was actually a pretty good idea. And when BC Hydro offered to fund the study, it just made that much more sense."

Motor Retrofit Project

Generous (now promoted to a new role) is explaining the decisions that led up to a comprehensive motor retrofit project at QRP, a division of West Fraser Mills. The 30-year old mill produces 1,050 tonnes of pulp per day of bleached chemi thermo-mechanical pulp. In 2008, BC Hydro approached the mill to suggest a study on motor efficiency. Funding for the study came from BC Hydro's Power Smart Partner Industrial program.

The study focused on motors 20 hp to 300 hp in size – the ones where it was most cost-effective to consider efficiency upgrades. A full analysis was completed to show QRP what it was costing to maintain its existing motors compared to the cost of switching to premium efficiency motors. The results showed that changing 195 motors would save 2.4 GWh of energy per year – a significant reduction in energy costs.

However, Generous says the time wasn't right in 2008 to go ahead with implementation. "With the cost of electricity and the BC Hydro incentives at that time, the payback was quite long," he says. "But out of that process, we had a ready-to-go project on the shelf. We knew at some point it would make sense."

Energy Study yielded immediate benefits

"Washington State University went through our inventory and pointed out where we had too many of one type of motor or not enough of another, or inventoried motors that were low efficiency," says Generous. "Over the life of the mill, there were a lot of times when people would repair a motor and then put it on the shelf when it should have been discarded, and instead of throwing old motors away, we'd just add another to inventory. We learned a lot about our inventory that was useful."

Based on what was learned, the company immediately changed its purchasing and rewind practices to improve efficiency and save on costs. "They taught us quite a bit," says Generous. "For example, they helped us understand why we should buy premium motors instead of something less, in terms of full cost analysis."

By the fall of 2009, electricity rates had climbed and incentives improved, and QRP decided it was time to update their motor study. "We went through the study ourselves, updated sections about our practices and noted how our inventory had changed," says Generous. "Then we put it forward internally to request funding, and we got approval."

The solid analysis helped support the business case for an efficiency upgrade, resulting in an investment from West Fraser and a Power Smart incentive of $808,607 towards the total project cost of $1,105,000. The scope of the project also allowed preferential pricing from the supplier of the motors, General Electric. The motors will be installed during 2011-2012 and are already cutting electricity usage at the mill.

Premium efficiency motors reduce down time and energy costs

"Energy efficiency is paramount for us," says Keith Carter, the mill manager. "We're a mechanical pulp mill; and one of the largest individual consumers of electricity in the province. As rates continue to climb, there's no question we want to continue to partner with BC Hydro and others to reduce our consumption, become more efficient, and improve our technology, because this is going to be a big issue moving forward." Carter expects the premium efficiency motors will significantly reduce downtime, adding to the savings from reduced energy costs.

Generous says it was worth doing the study, even if it wasn't clear how soon the information could be used. He credits BC Hydro with funding the study that ultimately proved out a business case. "Doing a whole mill analysis is pretty expensive, because there are a lot of motors to look at, lots of data to collect for analysis," he says. "It was definitely worth doing when we did it – we got it out of the way before we got busy with other things, and then it was sitting there ready when we were ready with the financial side of it. It wouldn't have happened if Hydro hadn't contributed to it."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and a regular contributor to both Current and bchydro.com.