Bancroft, WI – Processing potatoes is a very fluid operation, both figuratively and literally. Water is a vital part of the operation and potato processing facilities use a variety of motors and pumps to sort, separate, convey, and process their crop.
At Paragon Potato Farms in Bancroft, owners faced the problem of figuring out how to adjust the speed of motors and pumps independently and how to automate the process. Fortunately for them, they have an extremely capable technician on staff, Rod Biadasz, with a good understanding of the technology available to solve such problems.
“At our Frontier facility, a majority of the motors and conveyors had to start all at once with a master start,” said Rod, the Electrical/Industrial Automation Technician at Paragon Farms. “When billed from the power company, charges were partially based on peak consumption. Starting all of our equipment at once created a very large peak.”
Rod was convinced Paragon could lower energy costs by installing variable-frequency drives (VFD), controlling them with a programmable logic controller (PLC). He knew the previous method of starting the motors at the beginning of a shift and running them for the entire day, regardless of demand, was clearly wasting energy.
Rod wanted to build an enclosure to house approximately 50 VFDs, each controlled through a PLC. That way, when someone pushed the start button, the drives would start one at a time and consecutively, keeping peak energy consumption to a minimum.
While he was convinced his efforts would save money, Rod faced the challenge of convincing others at Paragon Farms. Essentially, he needed a second opinion, so he turned to Focus on Energy.
“I worked with Focus on Energy at my previous employer, so I had an understanding of who they were, their qualifications, and how their financial incentives worked,” Rod explained. “The first thing Focus on Energy did was conduct an energy audit. We systematically went through and discussed the entire operation, from where product enters the facility to the cooler where product is shipped.”
Adam Snippen is the Energy Advisor from Focus on Energy who worked with Rod.
“We started by discussing the most recent electrical upgrades to the potato processing facility and how this was laying the groundwork for further energy savings and more sophisticated system control.” Adam noted. “I took a tour of the facility and we made stops along the way to discuss past improvements and potential energy efficiency improvements for the future. Paragon Farms is actively taking advantage of VFD and LED technologies, and this has opened the door for improved motor performance and system optimization.
“I think the Paragon Farms staff was surprised by how much funding is available through the Focus on Energy program to implement process optimization strategies that will lead to lower operating costs and better system control.”
The energy audit confirmed what Rod had identified and recommended as a solution.
“I was very pleased,” Rod said. “The audit helped solidify the benefits of an electrical process change.”
It also revealed other areas for improvement.
“Prior to Adam’s arrival, I went through my own analysis of the entire facility,” Rod explained. “I thought I had captured all the areas where we could conserve energy. But with Adam’s assistance, we discovered I’d overlooked the cooling units. Initially, our focus was on the electrical process, but I never thought of the refrigeration for all of the facilities.
“We’re now continuing our efforts to conduct more investigations on the costs and efficiencies of our refrigeration units for the future.”
In assessing how Paragon Farms reacted to the audit, Adam said, “They had a very positive response to the estimated energy savings and Focus on Energy incentives available to them. Rod was very enthusiastic as he explained his past work to improve their processing system and the many opportunities to continue this work.”
“Working with Focus on Energy is easy and straightforward,” Rod said. “They understand that change isn’t always easy or inexpensive. But, ultimately, their programs are formulated to help.”
All ratepayers of the 107 utilities that participate in the Focus on Energy program are eligible for the energy expertise and financial incentives the program offers to businesses, homeowners, farms, schools and local governments. The most recent independent evaluation found every $1 invested in Focus on Energy programs creates $5.93 in benefits for Wisconsin, including economic benefits, reduced energy costs, and reduced pollution.
About Focus on Energy
Focus on Energy is Wisconsin utilities' statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program funded by the state's investor-owned energy utilities and participating municipal and electric cooperative utilities. Focus on Energy works with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Focus on Energy information, resources and financial incentives help to implement projects that otherwise would not be completed. Its efforts help Wisconsin residents and businesses manage rising energy costs, promote in-state economic development, protect our environment and control Wisconsin's growing demand for electricity and natural gas. For more information call 800.762.7077 or visit focusonenergy.com.
About Paragon Farms
Paragon Farms is supplied by 17 area growers. Approximately 200 million pounds of potatoes are graded annually at its processing facility in Bancroft and the facility houses five million cases of potatoes at any given time. Roughly 40 semi-trailers are loaded with potatoes daily for delivery to destinations across the country.
WPS (Wisconsin Public Service)