To keep manufacturing jobs at home, Rekluse Motor Sports went green.
The company started in a garage a decade ago. Now it has 40 employees. Rekluse executives were looking for ways to cut costs as they expanded to a new plant on Franklin Road in Boise. They wanted to keep the jobs in Idaho, a mecca for the off-road motorcycling enthusiasts who are both their customers and their workers.
The most logical step was to reduce energy use and to recycle the aluminum and steel left after manufacturing. Rekluse took those measures, saving thousands of dollars that fell to the bottom line.
But Rekluse went further. The company reinvented its factory using lean manufacturing techniques. It found ways to reduce the amount of coolant and other chemicals that can leak into the environment. It collected the oil-and-water mist produced by spinning machinery so it doesn’t end up in workers’ lungs and all over the plant.
“It’s nothing major or black magic,” says DeWayne Dayley, operations manager. “We just wanted to do it right the first time.”
Rekluse is a leader in a growing trend among large and small businesses to use green technology and energy efficiency to advance their businesses. Rekluse’s managers and employees take pride in the public benefits, including reducing their carbon footprint.
HERE’S WHAT REKLUSE DID
The company placed photocells on its ceiling skylights that turn off the interior lights when the sunlight is bright enough. It installed high-efficiency lighting and sensors that turn lights off when rooms are vacant.
Rekluse also installed a new air compressor with a variable-frequency drive that uses less power than its predecessor.
These features were installed as a part of Idaho Power’s Building Efficiency program for $46,000. They reduced Rekluse’s overall power usage by more than 91,000 kilowatt-hours a year, cutting the company’s annual power bill by more than $5,000 even as operations expanded.
“We nearly doubled the number of machines and the size of the facility,” Dayley says.
Other companies can achieve similar benefits when they expand or remodel, says Todd Schultz, Idaho Power’s Energy Efficiency Program leader for commercial and industrial customers.
“I just think they are a terrific example of the benefits our commercial customers will receive when they embrace energy efficiency to the level Rekluse did,” Schultz says.
CHEAP POWER, LITTLE INCENTIVE
It was only 11 years ago when Vice President Dick Cheney mocked energy conservation as “a sign of personal virtue.” When electric rates in Idaho were low, there was little incentive for companies to spend money to save power.
But in 2006, Wall Street quit providing capital to utilities to build new coal plants because of concerns about regulations that would put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions. Energy efficiency became the strategy of choice for state and utility leaders.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has allowed Idaho Power to recover its fixed costs regardless of how much money the company makes from selling its power each year. This “decoupling” of rates from power sales eliminates pressure for the utility to continually build new power plants to meet the demands of growth. It means Idaho Power is no longer penalized financially for promoting energy conservation.
“Idaho Power is actually one of the leaders of this movement nationwide,” says John Gardner, director of the Energy Efficiency Research Institute, a multi-institutional program at Boise State University that is part of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.
Nearly all of Idaho Power’s largest industrial customers — those that ordinarily draw more than 1,000 kilovolts of power, like Micron, J.R. Simplot and Amalgamated Sugar — have participated in the utility’s energy-efficiency program, Schultz says.
But only about 15 percent of its commercial customers have followed Rekluse’s example.
“Our programs are designed to help our largest customers down to the smallest mom-and-pop company out there,” Schultz says.
MOTORCYCLISTS’ GREEN ETHICS
Rekluse doesn’t disclose revenue figures but says it sells about 10,000 clutches a year for $400 to $900 each. That translates to $4 million or more. More than a quarter are sold overseas.
Al Youngwerth, the CEO and majority owner, started the company in 2002 after he couldn’t find the kind of clutch he wanted for his child’s motorbike. The unique clutch became popular with racers and regular riders alike.
Political fights over access to the backcountry have polarized motorcyclists and environmental groups. But Youngwerth says these disputes mask the environmental ethics of himself and other motorcyclists who are just as concerned as other environmentalists about issues such as climate change, air pollution and water quality.
“When someone takes a trip to Europe, their carbon footprint is the same as my off-road riding for five years,” Youngwerth says.
His attitude shows how environmental values are changing in Idaho. Schultz sees similar passion in both managers and workers in the companies he works with on energy efficiency.
“Leadership is a big component,” Schultz says. “Rekluse’s leaders realize the benefit they get from saving energy and the payback they get from that.”
Rocky Barker: 377-6484