Chrysler plant receives $1.3 million Earth Day check

What’s better than getting a $500 check on your birthday? Getting a $1.3 million check on your Earth Day, of course.

That’s what happened at the Chrysler Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois today. To celebrate Earth Day, Nicor Gas (www.nicorgas.com), Illinois’ largest natural gas provider, presented the facility with an incentive check that represents the savings achieved as a result of the implementation of three energy savings projects. It’s the largest cumulative incentive ever awarded by the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program.

The Belvidere Assembly Plant, located about 60 miles west of Chicago, employs around 4,500 people, working two 10-hour shifts, six days per week, and built more than 325,000 vehicles, including the Dodge Dart, Jeep Compass, and Jeep Patriot, in 2013.

“Our four core values are quality, unity, legacy, and passion,” explained Belvidere Plant Manager Eric Schimmel. “We know we have the unique opportunity to reduce our environmental footprint. We know our environmental goals can only be achieved with unity.”

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Beth Reese, president, Nicor Gas; Zachary Leroux, head of assembly operations, Chrysler Group; Eric Schimmel, Belvidere plant manager, Chrysler Group; and Hank Linginfelter, executive vice president, AGL Resources, celebrate $1.3 million of energy incentives at the Chrysler Belvidere plant.

The plant’s three energy conservation programs, implemented in 2013, will save about 2.5 therms — roughly the equivalent of energy used in 1,000 homes — annually.

A $400,000 rebate was awarded for the Cascade Air project, which involves reusing heated air in more than one location in the plant. Rather than using natural gas to continually heat outside air to a comfortable temperature, the cold outside air is supplemented with warm plant air, using less natural gas to heat it. “We recirculate inside air, instead of heating outside air,” explained Schimmel.

The installation of 34 variable frequency drive motors on direct gas-fired air handling units comprised the second project, which generated a $323,000 rebate. It enables proportional speeds to reduce the volume of heated air supplied to the plant.

Chrysler (www.chrysler.com) also used a $500,000 incentive from Nicor to defray costs on a project to upgrade hardware and install new software to connect and control 25 air supply units and many general and process exhaust fans as part of an energy management system, which facilitates plant-wide air balance and nonproduction heating setbacks through the use of an integrated control system. “This energy management system will better manage the gas usage, especially during off hours,” said Schimmel. “The savings generated through these projects are truly immeasurable and are representative of the dedication with which the Belvidere workforce tackles any challenge.”

Chrysler Group also received a 30% bonus on two of the projects because of identification in a Nicor assessment. The Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program offers rebates for installation of qualifying products, including boilers, water heaters, steam traps, and furnaces, as well as rebates to pre-approved customers who develop customized natural-gas-reduction projects at their facilities.

“We're a large gas company,” explained Hank Linginfelter, executive vice president of AGL Resources (www.aglresources.com) in Atlanta, which merged with Nicor Gas in 2011. “We have gas utilities in seven states. There's more than doing a good thing in business; there's doing the right thing. One of our core values is stewardship; being able to preserve our precious resources is part of that stewardship.”

In addition to the natural gas savings, Belvidere Assembly has accomplished sizable year-over-year environmental improvements, including a 12.7% reduction in water use, a 5.6% reduction in waste, and a 9.5% reduction in total energy consumption, which includes electricity, as well as natural gas.

“There's been a significant transformation at Chrysler since coming out of bankruptcy in June 2009,” said Zachary Leroux, head of assembly operations at Belvidere Assembly. “One of the technical pillars we have in world-class manufacturing is energy and environment. What does the environment mean to Chrysler? We've learned that zero is a beautiful number — zero injuries, zero downtime, zero waste. As the teams come together working in kaizens, we realize that we can start to achieve a zero optimum. Earth Day is an opportune time to remember our commitment to sustainability. Conserving natural resources and reducing greenhouse gases are goals we can support. For us, it's a natural choice. Today, we utilize more than 5 million sq feet of manufacturing space. Complexity brings challenges. Complex challenges require innovative partnerships.”

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