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Published: Saturday, 8/24/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

Eco-efforts at GM plant saves green

Energy efficiency at Toledo Transmission results in $5.8M a year in lower costs

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The nearly completed solar panel array on the roof of the GM Toledo Transmission plant on Alexis Road is just one of  the automaker’s energy-saving efforts. The nearly completed solar panel array on the roof of the GM Toledo Transmission plant on Alexis Road is just one of the automaker’s energy-saving efforts.
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General Motors has cut the amount of energy it takes to build one transmission at its Toledo Transmission plant by 27 percent over the last three years through a combination of energy-saving efforts.

In turn, it’s saving more than $5.8 million in annual energy costs, the company said.

The Alexis Road plant is one of 63 GM facilities that met voluntary energy-reduction goals set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s the second straight year the plant has achieved that recognition.

The automaker is working toward a goal of lowering its global carbon and energy intensity — that’s energy used per unit produced — 20 percent by 2020.

GM’s Toledo Transmission operation has been a pioneering plant in renewable energy. It was the first GM plant to use landfill gas as a fuel, which it has been doing since 1994. The company also achieved landfill-free status in 2008.

“This plant has been one of the top performers,” plant utility manager Tom Wynn said. “We've tracked this at a corporate level — energy use, and even when it comes to waste reduction. This plant has been at the top of that list for quite some time. We've had excellent support from management [and] also the union UAW members on the floor. Everyone’s involved. They've embraced it.”

The Alexis Road plant is GM’s busiest transmission plant in North America, building six-speed transmissions for both front and rear-wheel-drive vehicles. GM has invested millions into the plant in recent years to prepare it for an upcoming eight-speed transmission that will increase the plant’s current capacity of 4,900 transmissions per day.

To achieve the energy savings, the plant was outfitted with an energy management software system that allows lights to be turned off automatically when the plant isn't at work. More energy-efficient lighting also was installed, and the plant is currently experimenting with LED lighting, which may offer even more cost savings.

The company also asks its 1,900 employees to be proactive in powering down everything not in use, from desk lamps to production equipment.

Mr. Wynn said the plant’s nearly completed rooftop solar array is working well.

“They’ve been great,” he said. “They’ve performed as sold and we’ve had no maintenance issues or mechanical issues at all. We forget about them. They’re just up there doing their thing.”

Installation of the third and final phase is expected to start next month and be finished by the beginning of December. Once finished, the array will produce 1.8 megawatts of electricity. Solscient Energy LLC of Toledo is installing the assembly.

GM paid nothing for the panels. Instead, they purchase electricity produced by the panels.

“Right now it’s a competitively priced source of electric,” Mr. Wynn said. “It hasn’t saved us anything, but we expect it to in the long run.”

GM said the plant’s increased energy efficiency has kept more than 37,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, roughly the same amount that 5,700 U.S. homes would produce each year.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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