We caught up with Rob Threlkeld, our global manager of renewable energy, after he spoke at our Orion Assembly plant on Wednesday.
Rob was in Orion to announce GM’s investment of $24 million for generation equipment to create electricity from landfill gas at our Orion and Ft. Wayne assembly plants. It would allow GM to become the first automaker in North America to generate its own electricity and increase the use of landfill gas, a renewable source of energy.
Rob was nice enough to give us a few minutes of his time to explain the investment.
FL: What is the significance of this investment?
Rob: It’s significant for a couple of reasons. First of all is the costs savings. We have been saying for some time now that sustainability is good for our bottom line. This one-time investment of $24 million will result in annual savings of more than $10 million. That’s a pretty good return on investment.
Second, this equipment will generate more than 14 megawatts of renewable energy. With a goal of 125 megawatts in our portfolio by 2020, this is more than 10 percent toward that goal. It’s great to be able to make such a big move toward our target with one investment.
And, lastly, we will avoid emitting greenhouse gas emissions into the air. When the projects are up and running we will avoid producing 23,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. That’s equivalent to annual greenhouse gas emissions of 4,800 passenger vehicles.
FL: Why was Ft. Wayne chosen?
Rob: Both plants have been using landfill gas for more than a decade. And both plants are two of the more environmentally-friendly facilities in the GM family.
In fact, Ft. Wayne was our first assembly plant in the U.S. to achieve landfill-free status, and it received Energy Star certification from the U.S. EPA ENERGY STAR® program earlier this year for its prudent energy management.
It started using landfill gas in 2002. The $11 million investment specific to Ft. Wayne will allow the plant to almost quadruple its landfill gas usage.
FL: What about Orion Assembly?
Rob: Orion really is one of the shining jewels of our sustainability story.
Not only have they been using landfill gas since 1999, but they house a 350-kilowatt solar array on the grounds that sends energy back to the grid for use by area homes and businesses. The energy saved is equivalent to avoiding 261 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
When their project is up and running, more than half of the energy will be supplied by renewable energy. And that will make them the highest user of renewable energy of GM global facilities.
FL: What is the one takeaway from this announcement?
Rob: I think we want consumers to understand that we are always looking for ways to cut down on our carbon footprint, but not at the expense of designing, building and selling the world’s best vehicles.
And we’re willing to be innovative by doing something nobody else has done. We have some great partners in United REMC and Waste Management helping us, so we wouldn’t be able to do these projects without their help.
The bottom line is we understand that reducing the environmental footprint of our plants is good for business. There is a real bottom line case to be made.