CAMBRIA — Saving energy saves jobs.
That was the message that Phil Montgomery conveyed to about 20 attendees at Friday’s awards ceremony at Didion Milling, Inc. in Cambria — where Didion received a 2016 “Excellence in Energy” award from Focus on Energy.
Didion, whose corporate headquarters are in Johnson Creek, operates Didion Milling in Cambria and Didion Ethanol in the town of Courtland.
Montgomery, one of three members of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin — the entity that oversees Focus on Energy — said Didion has been able to increase its workforce by 28 percent because of the money that the company has saved through its energy-saving measures.
The company employs more than 225 people at all its locations; since many employees work at multiple Didion locations, the number working at Cambria on a given day varies.
In late 2009, company officials learned that Didion would receive a grant of about $5.6 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, for efforts to reduce consumption of natural gas and electricity. That money paid for about half the cost of an $11 million expansion that started in 2010, which featured an array of projects designed to save energy.
But Montgomery said it wasn’t just one project that earned Didion the Excellence in Energy award.
Rather, he said, it’s the corporate culture, in which all employees think in terms of avoiding energy waste, and thinking of ways to use less fuel and electricity in the manufacturing process.
“If somebody were to walk in this room and nobody was here,” Montgomery said, “they’d turn the lights off. If somebody sees a leak, they report it and get it fixed.”
Montgomery said an energy-saving corporate culture gives rise not just to simple, mindful energy conservation, but also to innovations.
Bill Lumsden, a Focus on Energy adviser who’s been working with Didion, cited one of those innovations, implemented recently at Didion Milling: an evaporator-finishing component that uses the “waste heat” from corn to remove water from material going into the drum dryer.
With this process, he said, the net projected savings, from using less natural gas, come to about $480,000 a year, and about 1.8 million therms of natural gas are saved.
“They’re not afraid to bite off the big projects,” Lumsden said of Didion. “And once they’re finished with one project, they’re talking about what’s next.”
John Didion, advisory board member for the family-owned company, said the company reduced its energy consumption about 4 percent last year alone.
His brother, Dow Didion, also an advisory board member, said many people think — incorrectly — that the process of producing ethanol uses more energy than ethanol saves.
What’s true, he said, is that ethanol production is a relatively new industry — and energy-saving innovations add to its efficiency.