PROSSER — Zirkle Fruit saved enough energy to power about 300 homes for a whole year after the Prosser plant switched to different cooling fans and made other changes at its organic apple plant.
The fruit packer was recognized Wednesday by the Benton PUD and the Bonneville Power Administration’s Energy Smart Industrial program for steps it took to save about 3.5 million kilowatt-hours a year.
Those variable fans represented two-thirds of the company’s energy savings, said John Whitchurch, Energy Smart Industrial partner manager.
Zirkle Fruit made comprehensive changes, including 12 different measures, at its Prosser campus to save energy, earning it an $800,000 rebate from the PUD.
Among the other improvements was the decommissioning of an aging engine room, improving a more modern engine room and replacing two air compressor systems with variable-speed systems. They also changed the lighting in offices.
In all, Zirkle Fruit was able to reduce its energy consumption by 35 percent, a significant amount for an industrial user of its size.
On Wednesday, Zirkle officials and employees gathered around a bright yellow garage-like door that was another of the modifications made to increase energy efficiency. The doors open and close rapidly.
Planning on the changes began in late 2010, Whitchurch said.
The 70-acre facility packs more than 100,000 bins of organic apples a year, said Dave Copeland, operations manager. Each bin holds about 900 pounds of apples. The Prosser facility employs about 360 people.
On Wednesday, employees were in constant motion checking and packing organic Honeycrisp and Red Delicious varieties.
Honeycrisp apples are brought inside in bins straight from the field, said plant manager Jim Breymeyer. Water floats them to an elevator and then they move across a presorting table, where workers watch for any defects.
They are washed and dried, and then brushed on rollers to add a shine. No wax is used since they are organic.
More workers sort the apples, separating the different grades by placing some on two conveyer belts.
Then, a machine sorts the apples by color and checks for defects. Each apple is then weighed.
Workers then place the Honeycrisp apples on purple trays, which Breymeyer said are made out of recycled newspaper and magazines. The trays then go into boxes and moved by conveyer belt into the cold room.
The variable-speed fans in the cold room mean the fans will run faster at first to bring the apples down to the 34 degrees for most varieties, or the 38 degrees for the more sensitive Honeycrisp apples, Breymeyer said. And once the temperature is reached, the fans slow and maintain that temperature.
Copeland said the company would have made the improvements eventually, but were able to do so faster because of the support offered by Benton PUD and BPA’s Energy Smart Industrial program.
Chris Johnson, Benton PUD’s manager of power resources, said the savings from Zirkle Fruit’s investments will benefit the PUD’s other customers.