Lumber mill saves 1.2 GWh with no capital cost, impresses customers

Doug Tracey, Operations Manager (left); Ron Gorman, CEO (right).

'Obviously, customers buy on price, but there has been a shift'

As Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. approaches its 60th birthday, it can look back on a proud history as one of B.C.'s family owned companies.

Launched as a fruit-box manufacturer, it has steadily expanded to include four facilities in B.C. and one in Washington. Its Westbank operation is considered to be one of the largest board mills in the world, producing 150 million board feet of spruce and pine 1" board per year, for shipment to 20 different countries.

A quest for continuous improvement is one of the company's keys to success – and one of the reasons it launched its energy efficiency program.

"Whenever there's an opportunity of cost saving or of doing something better, we take a look at it," says Doug Tracey, Operations Manager at Gorman Bros. Westbank mill. "We've always put in premium high-efficiency motors and we put in VFDs [variable frequency drives] when we do a capital project. We end up buying the Cadillac when it comes to energy-efficient options, so we thought we were running a pretty tight ship.

"Then we started to explore some of the opportunities with BC Hydro, and realized there's always room for improvement."

Gorman Bros.' efforts began with an Energy Management Assessment to identify energy-saving opportunities. From there, they hired a full-time Energy Manager with BC Hydro support.

A sustainable energy management plan was developed first for the Westbank facility, with successes also implemented at Downie Timber in Revelstoke. The company followed its historic practice of investing in capital projects during market downturns when implementation costs are lower, launching its energy efficiency work during 2010.

'What we save today will be greater tomorrow'

"It was really taking on that continuous process of looking at what we're doing and finding a better way of doing it," says Tracey.

And they have: the company has identified a potential 8.8 GWh of energy savings, and has already implemented projects capturing 4.6 GWh – a savings of approximately $276,000 per year.

Projects have included equipment upgrades and added controls, tagging and fixing 75 compressed air leaks and installing energy efficient lighting. Impressively, more than 1.2 GWh of the savings were captured with zero capital cost, through educating employees about energy-saving behaviour changes.

"I think what shocked the employees was how much energy is required not just to run the sawmill overall, but the details of what it takes to run air compressors and what leaks cost you," says Tracey, recalling a staff barbecue held as part of the company's employee awareness program.

"You can see it in the expressions on their faces when you start throwing out some numbers; for example, when they're using an air hose to blow off a scanner or when there's a leak in an air hose and it doesn't get repaired."

"What we save today will be greater tomorrow," commented President and CEO Ron Gorman as he contemplated the impact of energy efficiency against the prospect of rising energy costs.

Now in Year 2 of the program, 17 different projects are planned or underway, ranging from repairing air leaks to adding lighting controls, fine-tuning the loads on fans and installing a new energy efficient dryer. Next on the list, Tracey has his eye on the company's 23 energy-intensive dry kilns, where he comments, "There are great opportunities going forward."

"BC Hydro is dealing with many companies other than Gorman Bros., and I think having that depth of knowledge can help point us in the right directions of where we should be looking," he says. "Getting help with capital costs is a huge win, but it's the depth that BC Hydro brings with its personnel that has been excellent."

Something to take to our customers

While it's understood that investing in energy efficiency saves money, the impact on customer relations – especially in commodity markets – is less often considered. However, Tracey says Gorman Bros. is building value here as well.

"Recently we had over 50 customers here for a tour of our facilities in Westbank, and down in Washington," he says. "You know, globally, people are looking for companies that have certification; they want to see a company that is well run, that's going to be there for the long term.

"You can't afford to waste anything these days. Customers are looking at the quality of your wood fibre but also at what do you do with your by-products and how well you're managing the resource that you have. We get plenty of those questions. And they're impressed when we show them our scanning technologies or when we describe to them how much electrical savings we get with VFDs.

"Obviously customers buy on price, but there is a shift. They're environmentally conscious," Tracey concludes. "I think it's something we can take to our customers, that we're good stewards of the land. A lot has been given to us and there's a lot of responsibility. I think running a business today means being responsible in all sectors."