VTDigger: Welch Salutes GE Aviation as Corporate Leader on Climate
On a visit to GE Aviation’s local plant Thursday, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., hailed the company as one that has accepted the realities of climate change and is pursuing measures to reduce energy use and carbon emissions.
Welch contrasted the company’s efforts in recent years with the ongoing debate in Washington over whether climate change is real.
“You don’t have to waste time debating whether the problem exists,” Welch said, adding that many large corporations have seen the tangible benefits of reducing their carbon footprint.
“We’ve got a lot of allies with major corporations like GE who just see the enormous benefit of an all-hands-on-deck approach to trying to cut down on their electrical usage,” he said.
Since about 2004 GE has worked with Efficiency Vermont to upgrade its aging equipment, implement energy saving measures, and reduce its carbon emissions.
Mike Leonard, a senior account manager with Efficiency Vermont, said the savings for GE have been dramatic. After an energy audit in 2004, when GE implemented relatively simple efficiency improvements, the company saved more than $115,000 in a year.
The facility, which manufactures turbine blades and airfoils for both commercial and military jet engines, is one of the largest energy consumers in the state, trailing only GlobalFoundries and Omya. The plant just off Route 7 occupies about 8 acres and employs more than 1,000 workers.
GE has a second plant in Rutland and is the county’s largest employer.
Doug Elliott, who works with the Air Quality and Climate Division of the Agency of Natural Resources, said the facilities are not a particularly large source of air pollution. However, he said they do emit pollutants, including organic solvents, that are of concern but closely monitored.
GE is also the city’s largest consumer of water. According to Rutland Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg, the facilities typically consume more than 9 million gallons of water quarterly and discharge roughly the same amount to the municipal sewer system. Wennberg said that’s a fraction of what they used to consume.
“From an environmental standpoint they don’t waste water,” Wennberg said.
GE is one of the state’s larger producers of hazardous waste, which is shipped offsite for treatment or disposal, according to the ANR.
Charlie Barker, an engineer with the company who led the tour, described GE’s approach as a “lean manufacturing philosophy. Using less to make more.” As the plant has grown over the last decade, energy use has gone down, Barker said.
GE is rebuilding two massive forges used to manufacture engine parts that will incorporate fresh air as part of the cooling mechanism rather than relying solely on compressors. Barker said it was a multimillion-dollar investment. A large dust collector and filtration system that used to run around the clock is now regulated to operate only when needed. The company is also switching over all of the lighting in its facilities from conventional fluorescent bulbs to LEDs with controlling options.
According to GE’s figures, it has saved enough energy to power 2,100 homes for a decade and reduced carbon emissions by approximately 46,000 tons.
“We want to be environmentally conscious,” Barker said.
As part of GE’s effort to improve efficiency and reduce energy needs, the company has invested significantly in automation and robotics. Welch delivered his remarks in front of a newly acquired robotic arm that places cylindrical slugs into a forge where they are heated and then moved to a hydraulic press to be shaped. These are later fashioned into airfoil blades for jet engines.
Plant manager Nate Beach said GE employees have “embraced robotics” and that the new machinery has not led to a reduction in the workforce. The company is expected to lose between 30 and 50 workers a year to retirement through the end of the decade. The initial response to ads for entry-level manufacturing workers has been overwhelming, Beach said.