Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
ST. ALBANS — It’s hot, it’s summer, and it’s ice cream season.
Eating the good stuff is the easy part. The hard part? Keeping all that ice cream cool.
It’s a challenge that the St. Albans Ben & Jerry’s factory may know better than anyone else. The estimated 135,000-square-foot building, located in the St. Albans Town Industrial Park, churns out an average of 1.6 million gallons of ice cream every month – pints, bulk, and single scoop servings – and about 400 pints are produced each minute.
All the mixing machines mixing, the filling machines filling, the conveyor belts conveying, the packaging machines packaging – even an x-ray machine x-raying ice cream to make sure it has the right amount of chunks and swirls – not to mention the lights, refrigerators, freezers and other energy-consuming processes, take up a whopping 1.5 million kilowatt-hours each month.
In the summer, that number gets close to 1.7 million kWh.
For comparison purposes it’s important to know that one kWh is enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours.
“It’s higher in the summer when heat and humidity come up,” said environmental specialist Billie Davis on Thursday. “With this being an ice cream factory, refrigeration loads are quite sizeable.”
In order to keep energy loads and costs down, Ben & Jerry’s has had a partnership with Efficiency Vermont for over a decade. The company is also part of the utility’s year-old Industrial Peak Initiative that works with the 19 large manufacturers in the state to reduce expensive spikes, or peaks, in electricity. By avoiding those spikes, rates don’t increase as much and maintenance costs to the state electric grid are lowered.
“With Ben & Jerry’s being one of the largest energy users in the state, there’s been a point person appointed,” said Tim Perrin, senior account manager for the efficiency utility. Efficiency Vermont helps monitor the factory’s energy use, and it also provides technical help and resources. They’ve completed a number of energy upgrades over the years – maybe 50 in total – including several projects in 2014.
“We’re always working on projects,” said Davis, adding that Ben & Jerry’s is continually consulting with Efficiency Vermont. “We have a long list.”
Last year, projects included refrigeration and lighting upgrades. Variable frequency drives were added to the ammonia compressors and evaporator fans so that each refrigeration unit can be modified to the energy level needed at the time, and not always run at top speed.
In addition, LED lighting was installed in the factory’s distribution freezer, production room, mix-making area and spiral freezer.
“It’s able to deliver a better quality light with less energy used,” said Perrin.
In the spiral freezer, for example, lights struggled to warm up and come on in the -40 degree temperatures, so they used to be left on for longer times. LED lights, however, come on right away.
Looking in a production room where pints were packaged in groups of six to be delivered, the LED lights brightened up a windowless room.
“As soon as we turned it on, people were excited about it, happy with it,” said Dan Peters, engineering manager for both the St. Albans and Waterbury factories. “It really brightens the place up.”
In addition to making the factory a brighter place, the energy upgrades save electricity and money. According to Efficiency Vermont, last year’s two projects alone save Ben & Jerry’s $89,000 per year and 1,012,000 kWh per year.
Between 2013 and 2014, kWh per gallon of ice cream went down 14 percent.
According to Davis, all the upgrades have saved Ben & Jerry’s 4.5 million kWh over the years. A graph showing energy usage by the factory over the past 10 years shows a reduction in average kWh used per month – from about 1.7 million in 2005 to 1.45 million in 2015.
And, added Davis, “The [production] volume has not gone down.”
Benefits for all
In addition to Ben & Jerry’s saving more money making their ice cream, Efficiency Vermont – and electric grid users across the entire state of Vermont – benefit, too.
According to Liz Gamache, St. Albans City mayor and the new director of Efficiency Vermont, the reduction in peak electricity usage for Ben & Jerry’s – during periods like hot days in the summer – means the state’s energy system is more stable.
“It means that we all are collectively saving in Vermont because we don’t have to invest in infrastructure,” said Gamache. That infrastructure was estimated to cost $1.5 million.
It’s nice, too, that as Ben & Jerry’s saves more money, it is able to maintain jobs, which makes a difference specifically for the St. Albans community.
“These jobs matter a lot,” said Gamache.
There is, of course, the effect on the environment, too. While Vermont relies heavily on renewable sources for its energy, reducing electricity use still means less reliance on fossil fuels and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which have been scientifically linked to climate change.
All of these meet up with Ben & Jerry’s mission – to make good ice cream, to manage their company for sustainable financial growth, and to innovate their company to make the world a better place.
Jeff Hullstrung, senior energy consultant for Efficiency Vermont, added of Ben & Jerry’s, “They’ve always been at the forefront of sustainability efforts. I think that alignment of their corporate DNA and our corporate DNA helps us work really well together.”
Peters said, “It’s a true partnership.”
And that partnership benefits everyone, especially ice-cream lovers.
“I like to think the ice cream tastes better since we’ve worked with you,” said Perrin, laughing, to his Ben & Jerry’s partners.
Eating a spoonful of “Boom Chocolatta! Cookie Core” ice cream upon leaving the factory, there’s every possibility of that being true.