There’s more to be gained from energy efficiency than money, according to the leaders of Penda Corporation.
The Portage manufacturer has saved almost a half-million dollars thanks to 30 completed energy projects since 2012, and last week the company received recognition for its recent success from Focus on Energy, the statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program.
“But what Portage should really know is the projects allow us to invest in the best people. We’re looking to build for the future,” said Todd Spencer, Penda Corporation’s vice president of human resources.
Penda, which manufactures plastic automotive parts, including its main product of pickup bed liners, completed 14 energy efficiency projects in 2018. It has either completed or is working on another 18 projects in 2019.
The company was among 18 Wisconsin businesses to receive an Energy Efficiency Excellence Award from Focus on Energy, which is funded by 107 Wisconsin utilities and provides rebates to companies that invest in energy efficiency. Penda collaborates with Alliant Energy (its utility) and Focus on Energy on the projects, many of which have converted compressed air to electricity.
“Compressed air is very expensive and it is very easily wasted because people don’t think about it enough,” said Mike Johnson, Penda’s vice president of operations. “We’re converting more and more (systems) to electric. We’re upgrading older equipment and trying to be more efficient with the electricity that we do use.”
“The projects have helped us to improve our product, which is actually more important to us than the savings.”
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Penda Corporation — established in Portage in 1976 — produces more than 2 million automotive parts per year. It invested $700,000 in energy efficiency projects in 2018 and expects to see a return on that investment in 2½ years, Penda President David Kruger said. The projects should thereafter save Penda about $300,000 per year, on average.
TriEnda, which acquired Penda Corporation in 2016 and specializes in heavy-gauge plastic pallets and shipping containers in Portage, has itself invested $400,000 in energy efficiency projects, Kruger said. TriEnda is officially controlled by the Oklahoma-based Kruger Brown Holdings, which purchased TriEnda in April 2014.
“We put our capital to work wherever it makes sense, and it’s easy to invest in good ideas,” Kruger said of the emphasis on energy projects, noting company leaders are also big believers in using recycled materials. “Now we’re taking everything we’ve learned (from these projects) at Penda and using it at TriEnda.”
Penda Corporation employs 280 people, while TriEnda employs more than 300, Spencer said. Combined, they’re the largest employer in Columbia County and currently have about 20 job openings.
“It’s a great place to work, with a lot of seniority,” Spencer said. “We have a lot of employees who’ve worked here for more than 25 years.”
Manufacturing engineer Dave DeBolt, who’s worked at Penda for 33 years, said the company’s energy projects actually started in 2001. But he credited the recent surge in completed projects to Kruger and CEO John Brown.
“Simply put, they give us the capital we need to complete them,” DeBolt said. “Things are just so different now compared to when I started (33 years ago). There was almost no interest in saving energy, but society has changed. It just gets better and better.
“It’s good for us, and it’s good for the environment.”
Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.