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Mill Cuts Down The Kilowatts

Of all the impressive machinery at Boise Cascade’s Kinzua Lumber sawmill in Pilot Rock, a simple dry-erase board is what really stood out to J.P. Batmale.

Written on the board is a seemingly routine reminder for workers in the planer to shut off their chipper and sawdust blower when finished. But Batmale, industrial program manager with the nonprofit Energy Trust of Oregon, sees it as evidence of a larger change in a culture emphasizing efficiency.

“That’s what this whole thing is about for us,” Batmale said during a tour of the mill Wednesday.

It takes a lot of energy to run the saws, belts and edgers that make Kinzua Lumber hum to the tune 50 million board feet per year. The mill formed its own employee-led energy team last year to cut waste and find savings, with help from the Energy Trust’s Strategic Energy Management initiative.

By putting new procedures in place, the team shaved 14 percent off the mill’s annual energy use by March 2013 — more than 1.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity, or enough to power about 160 homes for the year.

The Trust pays 2 cents per kilowatt hour in cash incentives for companies that participate in the strategic management program. Batmale presented Kinzua Lumber with a check for $36,075 Wednesday, adding to the mill’s trimming of $99,000 off its annual energy bill.

“You guys truly hit it out of the park,” Batmale said. “This is one of the best-performing sites we’ve ever had.”

Plant Superintendent Mike Zojonc said the savings are critical in a very competitive business. All 90 mill employees bought into the program, he said, and came forward with ideas to contribute.

The team identified small procedural changes, such as shutting off motors and lights when not in use, that added up over the year. They also improved winterizing at the facility and invested in small equipment upgrades.

“It’s a good group. It’s a group that wants to get better,” Zojonc said. “Any money we can save from energy use can be put into making mill improvements, or buying logs.”

Kinzua Lumber is a medium-sized mill that brings in logs from across the Northwest, primarily Washington and Idaho, for making industrial products it can sell to door and window manufacturers. It employs about 90 people, with a safety record that now stands at 441 days without an accident.

The mill started working with Cascade Energy, Inc., which provides expertise in industrial energy efficiency. Cascade Energy brought on the Energy Trust of Oregon, which provided further technical support.

Brian Crumrine, program delivery manager with Cascade Energy, said even a small step like turning off equipment on a clean-up shift can save thousands of dollars.

“Those were some big motors that were just running when they didn’t need to be running,” Crumrine said. “You walk through the facility, and it’s just how people make decisions every day. People think about energy now.”

Zojonc said the mill continues to lower its energy use, and called last year’s work a “good start.”

“It’s been a good project. But it doesn’t end here,” he said. “Opportunities still exist for additional savings and improvements, so we’ll keep searching them out and going forward.”

Contact George Plaven at or 541-564-4547.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.