Ethan Allen invests in energy efficiency

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(Host) A major Northeast Kingdom business says it’s investing money to save energy and hold onto jobs in Vermont. The Ethan Allen furniture company says the new investment in energy efficiency will lower electricity bills by a million dollars over 10 years. Ethan Allen says those savings will help keep more than 1,000 people employed in Essex and Orleans counties.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Grinding sound of machinery sound.)

(Dillon) The sprawling Ethan Allen plant dominates the village of Orleans. The company also is a major force in the Northeast Kingdom economy. About 500 people work here. They operate huge saws and planers that shape the company’s trademark tables and chairs. But over the past year and a half, Ethan Allen closed down two plants in Vermont. When the Randolph and Island Pond plants shut their doors, 270 people lost their jobs.

Ethan Allen has now worked with Efficiency Vermont, a statewide energy saving program, to save power, cut costs and ultimately keep people employed. Darrell Marley of Efficiency Vermont says that at each workstation, ventilation equipment sucks away the sawdust. Marley says the new retrofit will sense when the machines are idle.

(Marley) “When the gate is open, you draw the air you need. When the gate is shut, it doesn’t draw the air. It’s just that simple. That’s the work that the motor no longer has to do.”

(Dillon) And when the motors aren’t working as hard, they use less electricity.

(Marley) “At that end, the energy savings are really geometric in proportion. It’s as simple as that.”

(Dillon) Upstairs in a company conference room, Ethan Allen executives say the investment in energy conservation will pay off quickly.

(Ed Teplitz) “And we are looking over a period of years to save well over one million dollars in electricity costs at this facility alone.”

(Dillon) Ed Teplitz is Ethan Allen’s chief financial officer. He says the company told the state it needed to lower electricity bills, along with property taxes and worker’s compensation rates. Ethan Allen will spend almost $300,000 on the new equipment. Efficiency Vermont, the statewide energy saving program, provided technical advice and another $116,000. Teplitz says investment will help Ethan Allen stay in Orleans.

(Teplitz) “I think every step we take in terms of helping reduce overhead and making the plants more efficient will lead in that direction.”

(Dillon) Teplitz says Ethan Allen is committed to Orleans and to its other Vermont plant in Beecher Falls, near the Canadian border. He says there’s still work to be done with the state on tax and insurance issues.

Teplitz also has a word of advice for some of the companies that have complained about the surcharge in their electric bills to cover energy efficiency programs. He says those companies should get in touch with Efficiency Vermont to see if they can also cut their bills:

(Teplitz) “I think decreased electric use benefits everybody in society, not just the cost to us but to the overall benefits to the environment. I think we have to take all of that into consideration.”

(Dillon) Efficiency Vermont says it was able to provide the energy savings at about two cents a kilowatt hour, or about half the cost of what it costs to buy new power.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Orleans.

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