JEB Solar_Overhead Shot_format
J.E. Berkowitz has its own 1.69-MW solar array that contributes 25 percent of its plant’s electricity.

he best way for the glass industry’s most power-hungry businesses to manage energy costs is to do two things—first, if you can, put in cost-saving mechanisms before the thermometer starts impacting energy bills and, second, just dig in and bare with the added costs, some say some.

“Energy costs? Not a lot you can do about it,” says ViWinco president David Barnes with a laugh.

That may be true once the extreme cold—such as the kind that has enveloped many regions of the nation this winter—takes up residence in locations where your plants reside. But in fact companies, including Barnes’s, take action that can help keep costs down. ViWinco, based in Morgantown, Pa., for example, takes 40 percent of its power directly from a 2-megawatt (MW) solar farm that happens to be located right behind its plant. The company has a 20-year contract in place with the solar farm for electricity at below market value. That clearly helps soften the blow of cold air. (With solar, it’s not about the heat; it’s about the light.)

When asked about handling energy costs during the Polar Vortex and other cold snaps, J.E. Berkowitz special projects manager George Smith also references solar. The Pedricktown, N.J., company has its own 1.69-MW solar array that contributes 25 percent of its plant’s electricity. Even better, the state offers a net metering program under which power from the solar array not used at the plant is sent onto the grid. In such times (e.g., at night), “Our meter is spinning backwards,” says Smith.

J.E. Berkowitz, in fact, has been thinking in terms of energy cost savings for years. Even before it moved into its new plant some seven years ago, it was retrofitting its old facility with fluorescent lighting. It also replaced its old tempering oven—one of the biggest consumers of electricity on the plant floor—with a newer one designed for greater energy efficiency.

Like many other utility customers with large loads, the company also participates in a demand-response program offered by the regional grid operator, under which it gets paid to reduce its electricity usage when the grid operator makes such a request during extreme temperatures and resulting peaking load. The decision to ratchet down load is purely voluntary, so if the plant must stay ramped up in order to meet an order, it can decline to lessen its load.

For its newer plant, J.E. Berkowitz made energy efficiency a priority starting with the design. Extensive use of glass maximizes cost-free natural lighting, while sensors allow lights to come on incrementally based on the natural light available. Motion detectors for lesser-used rooms ensure that lights shut off automatically when not in use.

For companies that run multiple shifts, one option for saving on energy during extreme weather is to move more of the work to evening and night hours, when electric rates decline. Jon Johnson, general manager at Trulite’s Trudeco operations in Columbus, Ohio, says that he’s worked at plants that have the flexibility to do that. But for his plant now, when the threat of high energy bills loom, “We just have to suck it up because we’re only a one-and-a-half shift operation,” he says.

Once the weather hits, “suck it up” seems to be a theme. ViWinco also sticks mainly to a daytime shift, so beyond the 40-percent contribution from the solar contract, “Our hands are tied,” Barnes says of the need to keep the plant humming regardless of the cost of kilowatt-hours. “We just have to suck it up because we’re still going to run the business.”

As for that solar array that keeps J.E. Berkowitz’s electric bill 25 percent lower? At the moment, it’s likely not contributing much electricity. It’s covered with snow.