It seems simple, but it bears repeating: Keeping costs down helps Vermont businesses succeed, and energy is one of those costs. We can help business owners reduce that cost with energy efficiency solutions, and strengthen storied Vermont industries like granite manufacturing in Barre.
The granite industry in Barre reaches as far back as the early 1800s, and it expanded in 1875, when the central railroad reached Vermont. As the granite industry grew, so did the city of Barre. Yet the granite industry is not thriving as it once was. I recently got a behind-the-scenes look at the granite shed of Vermont’s leading and oldest producer of customized granite memorials — Adams North Barre Granite — where Efficiency Vermont has been working to help reduce the company’s energy use and, of course, its energy costs.
Matt Dion, the plant manager of Adams North Barre, estimates that back when his father worked in the Barre granite industry starting in the 1950s, there were at least 80 granite sheds operating in Barre. Today there are about 30. And, as with many trades, it’s become harder and harder to attract young people to pursue this line of work.
The granite industry in Barre also faces challenges that I hadn’t thought of until Matt pointed them out to me. For example, as tastes and cultural norms have changed over the decades, cremation has grown in popularity over burial, and there has been a general downsizing of gravestones. Imported finished memorials from China and India have also driven down the price of local granite.
All these realities underscore the importance of keeping manufacturing costs as low as possible. I’m proud that we’ve been able to play a part in doing that at Adams North Barre. We’ve worked with the facility consistently since 2003, and the energy and cost savings are vital for this business. The granite industry has been a central part not only of Barre, but of the state’s economy for more than 140 years, and we need to work together to add more years to a quintessential Vermont industry.
Efficiency meets granite at the cutting edge
When I entered the granite shed at Adams North Barre, I was met with the sound of an eight-foot, diamond-tipped circular saw blade ripping into a 30-ton hunk of granite. That sound is as deafening as it is thrilling. Though new to me, this sound is part of the normal workday at the granite manufacturing facilities — or granite sheds — that operate around Barre.
Matt was my tour guide, and showed me the journey that a granite slab takes from the moment it arrives at the granite shed (the first stop is that giant saw) to the moment it leaves as a finished product. At Adams, a full-service manufacturer of granite memorials, in most cases that takes the form of a headstone or a piece of statuary that will mark someone’s final resting place. The shed is a 70,000-square-foot steel building with no interior walls, only stacks and stacks of granite in various states of refinement.
As the tour went on, Matt recalled when he first proposed having Efficiency Vermont come for a walk-through assessment. Owner Kerry Zorzi responded with a pair of rhetorical questions. “Why wouldn’t you have these guys come in? What’s the downside?”
The answer: None. We know that plant managers like Matt get lots of sales calls from different vendors. We’re not selling anything. We just want to help businesses save energy. And an Efficiency Vermont energy consultant can help navigate some of the sales claims that vendors make with expert analysis and independent verification.
Better work conditions and energy-saving opportunities
One thing was obvious as I got the tour — it takes a lot of energy to process granite! The 50 people who work at Adams North Barre use massive saws and an array of pneumatic hand tools to shape and polish the stone. Huge air compressors run constantly to provide power to the hand tools, while large exhaust hoses suck granite dust away from each workstation to keep the air nearly dust free.
Looking around, you can also see some of the results of the work we’ve done together to help lower the energy bills at Adams North Barre Granite. First, I noticed that all the workers wore T-shirts, even though it was early December. I learned that before working with Efficiency Vermont to upgrade the HVAC systems, this granite shed was chilly in the winter, despite burning thousands of gallons of fuel oil to heat the space for the workers.
In an early visit to the granite shed, Efficiency Vermont energy consultant Josh Kelman noticed that the exhaust system used to remove granite dust from the air was venting outdoors; leaking large volumes of heated air and requiring more fuel to maintain a reasonable indoor temperature. Josh recommended an investment in an advanced filtration system, and more efficient variable-speed exhaust fans that would allow the warm air to be returned to the shed. This one change, for which Efficiency Vermont was able to provide incentives to reduce the upfront cost, is saving Adams North Barre roughly 1,700 gallons of fuel oil per year, and over the life of the investment we expect the facility will save well over $100,000 in heating and electricity costs. Now, the room is warm and the staff is much more comfortable.
Josh also recommended that Adams North Barre convert to high-efficiency lighting throughout the shed, and connected them with Efficiency Vermont incentives for switching. Beyond saving an estimated $18,000 a year in reduced electricity costs, the new lights improved the overall lighting in the granite shed, making it a brighter, potentially more productive work environment. Dim lighting can result in eyestrain, drowsiness, and lack of focus, all of which have negative impacts on employee productivity and safety.
When we look at all of the energy efficiency work Adams North Barre has done over the years, we estimate they will save more than $500,000 in energy costs over the lifetime of the measures they’ve invested in. On average, the measures that Adams North Barre has invested in pay for themselves in 2.5 years with the energy savings they generate.
Energy and cost savings and a better place for people to work: These are the reasons I’m proud of the work Efficiency Vermont does with businesses throughout Vermont. I am looking forward to the continued partnership with Adams North Barre and any other Vermont business to help cut costs and make doing business in Vermont more affordable.
If you’d like more information on how businesses can partner with Efficiency Vermont, visit www.efficiencyvermont/business-forward.
Liz Gamache is the director of Efficiency Vermont.