From Schools to Packaging Manufacturers to Breweries – companies across the state are embracing Energy Efficiency and a clean energy future for Michigan. Three of those organizations were honored with 2019 Consumers Energy Energy Efficiency Project of the Year awards, which highlight specific projects demonstrating commitment to reducing energy use, saving customers money and protecting our planet for future generations.

Westwood Heights School District – Large Commercial Category
This year’s winner in the large commercial category, Westwood Heights Schools of Flint, vastly improved its heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting systems at Michael Hamady Middle & High School. These upgrades helped Westwood save more than 1.6 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity for an incentive of nearly $198,000.

Consumers Energy is working to build a clean energy future for Michigan, with plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions and meeting 90 percent of the state’s energy needs with clean, renewable resources by 2040. Westwood Heights Schools’ commitment to energy efficiency exemplifies what that future looks like.

A Story of Resurgence in Flint

Westwood Heights Schools faces challenges, including high poverty and lingering student health effects stemming from lead in the city’s water supply. Despite these obstacles, Westwood Schools are experiencing an unexpected resurgence.

The Michael Hamady Middle & High School has nearly doubled its student population, from 850 students in 2012-2013 to over 1,600 students in the 2019-2020 school year. By focusing on the future, they are working to rise above unfortunate circumstances to ensure students’ success.

“We’re living in a really difficult area of the country,” Superintendent Peter Toal explains. “For our parents and students and staff to see all these projects going on like solar arrays going up, it’s like ‘Wow! We’re just like all these other rich areas! We can do this stuff too.’”

Energy Efficiency—One of Many Improvements

With the future of their students and the planet in mind, Westwood Heights Schools has a five-year plan to upgrade its facilities. Most upgrades will occur at the district’s Michael Hamady Middle & High School.

Built in the 1960s, Hamady’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting systems were inefficient and becoming more costly to repair. Lighting quality was inconsistent across the campus, and maintenance staff had resorted to finding spare parts on eBay due to lack of availability.

“If you walked through our buildings a couple years ago, all you needed to do was look at the ceiling tiles,” Toal recounts. “You’d see that there were leaky pipes, problems with HVAC, and poor lighting in certain areas.”

It was time for an upgrade, and Westwood Heights answered the call.

The district partnered with Unesco to focus on maximizing energy savings. Unesco installed new HVAC equipment, LED lighting, and controls to save energy and money for the district, all while improving the learning environment for students and teachers.

“Actions speak louder than words” says Jill Diliberti, Energy Manager at Genesee Intermediate School District. “Seeing the changes at the school, how it’s a well-lit, comfortable learning environment, that speaks volumes.”

The Future Looks Bright

Westwood Heights won’t stop here. Through energy efficiency, the district is dedicated to improving students’ lives, classroom quality and Michigan’s environment.

As for other older school districts struggling with whether they should make extensive updates, Superintendent Toal has some advice. “Don’t delay. The savings are immediate, and the cost savings is only half the story. It’s reduced maintenance, it’s reduced operating expenses, it’s better air quality, better room comfort. Especially older school districts, they should all be doing these projects.”

Realizing that sustainability is continuous, Westwood Heights Schools also is part of Consumers Energy’s Green Revolving Fund, enabling it to invest in green energy projects in the future.

And as for Westwood’s Energy Efficiency Project of the Year prize money? “We are supplying Chromebooks and Hotspots to all our families who are working from home. In our community, many of our families don’t have connectivity, so being able to provide a hotspot is golden for them – and $15,000 goes a long way toward supporting that project.”

Graphic Packaging International – Industrial Category

The industrial category winner, Graphic Packaging International (GPI), completed major equipment upgrades in its Kalamazoo and Battle Creek locations. The upgrades enabled GPI to save a combined 9,189,677 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and receive an incentive totaling more than $1.7 million.

GPI became aware of Consumers Energy’s energy efficiency programs and incentives in 2013. Beyond energy and cost savings, GPI deems the Consumers Energy team a value-driven extension of its own engineering and purchasing teams.

Leaders in Packaging Dedicated to Sustainability

GPI is one of the largest manufacturers of paper-based packaging – coated recycled board, unbleached craft paperboard, and foodservice plates, cups and other high-end packaging – for some of the world’s most recognized food and beverage, household, personal care and pet care product brands. Once produced, many of GPI’s products are sent to its converting plant. cartons are printed and cut at the plant and sent to customers to be filled with product.

The company employs about 19,000 and operates more than 70 facilities worldwide. Of GPI’s eight North American facilities, two are in the Michigan communities of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

As an organization, GPI is dedicated to making a difference for our planet – from producing and using recyclable materials to committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Among GPI’s goals is to responsibly use water and energy at company facilities – including reducing overall energy consumption 15 percent by 2025. Energy efficiency upgrades at GPI’s Kalamazoo and Battle Creek locations are major steps forward in reaching that goal.

“GPI seeks to invest in energy efficiency projects that support our long-term sustainability and business goals,” said Scott LeBeau, Vice President, Recycled Mill Division with GPI. “Consumers Energy brought that opportunity to us, and the rebates we captured helped us get to value more quickly.”

Paper Machine Upgrades a “Game-Changer”

GPI’s Kalamazoo board mill facility saw improvements to two of its major paper machines. The improvements drastically reducing electricity and natural gas used per salable ton of paper produced.

GPI’s K1 paper machine received a state-of-the-art upgrade to its Tamformer and vacuum system, improving efficiency, increasing speed and reducing downtime. The company’s K3 paper machine received high-pressure dryer upgrades that increased speed and reduced energy use.

GPI’s Battle Creek paper mill also saw upgrades to its two paper machines, boosting speed 3% and improving productivity and efficiency. New technology was implemented across both systems that enables greater control and reduced downtime.

In addition, improvements were made to the facility’s powerhouse and boiler to increase capacity and boost production in the facility, making operations more energy efficient across the board.

“Our paper machine upgrades proved the biggest game-changer,” said LeBeau. “We saw improved operating stability and a significant per-unit cost decrease, thanks in part to a new high-pressure dryer and an advanced boiler system.”

Growing Jobs and Investment in Kalamazoo

Graphic Packaging’s anticipated investment in the project is $600 million, which company executives say should create a $2 billion economic impact on the region while construction is ongoing. Construction at the site began in early 2020 and is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to Kalamazoo during the two-year construction phase.

Once the project is complete, the manufacturer plans to add between 25 and 50 full-time positions to its existing local workforce. The Atlanta-based company currently has 625 employees based at its Kalamazoo mill.

Atlanta-based Graphic Packaging anticipates the project will increase manufacturing output by more than 70 percent at the Kalamazoo mill location.

For the project, Consumers Energy will build a customer-dedicated electrical substation that will be served by a 138-kilovolt (kV) electric line. A high-pressure natural gas system will be upgraded to the campus, and Consumers Energy also will complete ancillary upgrades.

“Expanding operations is equally exciting and challenging, and no company can do it on its own,” said LeBeau. “The Consumers Energy team has been a great ally to GPI in helping us grow our business, improve product quality and reduce costs.”

Making an Impact

Through these efforts, GPI has truly demonstrated their dedication to investing in infrastructure and practices that make a positive impact on our environment. By reducing energy consumption and increasing productivity, they’re leading the way in proving that sustainable practices are good for the planet – and good for business – in 2020 and beyond.

Presidential Brewing Company – Small Commercial Category

The small commercial category winner is Presidential Brewing Company. A venture making interesting beer has flowed into an energy savings incentive of $1,962 for this new brewery in Portage, Michigan.

Presidential Brewing uses energy efficient systems that will enable them to save a projected 8,484 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity over industry standard brewing systems.

The First Family of Portage Beer

A few years ago three brothers—Jake, Mitch, and Randy (and their dad, Bob) would get together to drink interesting beer. The ritual led them to brew their own interesting beer which they named after presidents. With names such as the Oatbama Stout, the Grill Clinton and the Lincoln Lager, opening a family brewery and beer tasting room was destiny for the Lohse family.

The venture started as a social event called New Beer Friday, where family, friends and community members would gather to enjoy interesting home brews. But given the varied political, economic, and philosophical tastes in the room, the family saw potential for something even better than good beer.

“At our core, our business is most excited about trying to build community,” Presidential Brewing’s president and founder, Jake Lohse, said about the family’s vision. “I think that seeing that taproom space finished, where people would be eating and drinking, really set the stage for what we wanted to do.”

Building a Brewery The Right Way

As the Presidential Brewing Company opened its first brewery and tap room, they decided to do things the right way from the beginning – for their newfound community and for Michigan’s environment. They sought to convert a building that had been vacant for the past decade into the most energy efficient space they could.

“I’m the type of person who likes to invest a little stronger capital up front in order to make sure that, over the long term, we’ll see a greater payoff.” Lohse says about their planning process. “As we were looking at things like energy efficiency, we wanted to be sure that we were set up for the long haul, not just right now.”

The centerpiece of Presidential Brewing’s energy efficient brewing system is its indirect fire brewing kettle. Instead of burning gas at the bottom like most standard kettles (which causes outside heat loss), the indirect kettle design uses a modulating burner that blows hot air onto an enclosing jacket, which captures more heat and uses much less energy.

The company also installed a glycol chiller to cool its fermentation tanks individually rather than keeping an entire room cold. Employees cool what’s needed and no more.

Presidential also installed an efficient pump system for moving liquids around the brewery, along with highly controlled LED lights in its brewpub, to ensure electricity used for lighting is as efficient as possible. 

Jake Lohse is grateful to pour these energy savings back into the company.

“One of the pieces that came with our property was an 18-hole mini golf course,” said Lohse. “We demolished nine holes and recently finished installing a beer garden. Our goal is to expand our outdoor space because that’s where people feel most comfortable right now.”

As for the Energy Efficiency Project of the Year prize money? “It went directly to the beer garden,” Lohse said with a grin. “We’re in a great position in 2021 to have a really cool space where people are going to be able to drink beer, play mini golf, and hang out in the beer garden. And we’re pretty excited about that.”

Cheers to a Cleaner Michigan

Presidential Brewing Company sought to build a sustainable brewery in their community and proved more than willing to do its civic duty. The family plans to use the lessons they’ve learned in all things clean energy and energy efficiency as they open potential new locations. They’ve also shared energy efficiency recommendations with other breweries, proving Presidential’s dedication to the environment and the greater Michigan community.

“I remember distinctly looking through what’s now our kitchen, looking out over what we’ve finished, and thinking, ‘This is a tap room now,’” Lohse says. “It hit me that this building sat unused for a decade, and it was really neat to think that the steps we took would breathe life, excitement and community back into it.”