Gone are the cold, fluorescent hues from the factory floor at C+K Plastics Inc. Instead, the custom thermoformer's facility is bathed in the warm glow of natural wavelength from T5 fixtures with motion sensors.
From the lights, wires run to the brand-new roof of the 80,000-square-foot plant in Metuchen, N.J., which recently was covered in Serengeti E13-series solar panels manufactured by SunPower Corp. of San Jose, Calif.
“The new light bulbs are so much brighter than the old ones; you can actually decrease your bulbs. What a difference in the plant,” President Bob Carrier said in a May 25 telephone interview.
According to Carrier, the new system will supply half of C+K's annual electricity usage of 1.1 million kilowatt-hours for lighting and machinery — an estimated annual savings of $2.7 million.
He said going “green” and saving on electricity costs moved him in the direction of solar power in recent years.
“Originally I looked at it to have someone else own the solar panels and I [would] just buy the power from it at reduced cost. But the more I dug into it, it made sense to borrow the money myself, to own the system and take the benefits,” he said. “What really changed everything was in ‘09, the federal government went from [a clean energy] tax credit to a grant.”
C+K paid $30,000 cash and financed $211,000 through a loan from Sun National Bank. Some of the $2.2 million overall cost was offset by a $660,000 federal grant, as well as a $1.3 million loan from utility provider Public Service Electric and Gas Co.
In addition to interest on its loan, the utility gets to claim kwh clean-energy credits under a state program. “Just like there's a market for corn futures, there's a market for solar energy in New Jersey,” Carrier said.
After a year-long selection process, C+K's contractors began installing the new system in November and “worked wonders” through the difficult winter, he said, with the connection to the local power grid occurring late in March.
In the past two years, Carrier installed more efficient lighting at C+K's sister company, Valley Extrusions LLC in Allentown, Pa. Between C+K and Valley, 1,600 fixtures, 2,000 light bulbs and 400 motion sensors were involved, he said.
Unlike C+K, Valley still gets its power mainly from traditional sources, although the company does incinerate trash on-site to generate some of its electricity, he said.
“The solar [array] doesn't quite make sense there because the state incentives aren't there. But I'm not done out there yet,” Carrier said.
Both companies aggressively collect and recycle scrap, he said.
Founded in 1963, C+K has annual sales of about $9 million, according to John Temple, vice president of sales. Its thermoformed products are used in items ranging from golf and utility carts, ATM machine covers and column covers to medical devices and exercise equipment.
Valley ranked No. 148 among North American pipe, profile and tube extruders in Plastics News' most recent survey, with 2009 sales of $6.5 million. The company employs 75.