Berner Celebrates Another ‘Step Toward Sustainability’

Business Journal Daily
January 19, 2024

Installing a solar panel array on the roof is far from the first move aimed at sustainability that Berner International has made over the years, and it certainly won’t be the last, company officials said.

Local and state officials or their surrogates took part in an event at the company’s Progress Avenue plant and headquarters Thursday to celebrate the activation of the solar array. It was activated in late 2023.

“Sustainability started years ago at Berner,” said David Rimbey, president and CEO. “Now, with solar energy, it will be able to keep us competitive in the future.”

Berner International – which is also known as Berner Air Curtains, after its signature product – spent more than $1 million to install the solar panel array, Denise Grady, chief financial officer, said. The company has evaluated implementing solar power several times over the years, but it “never quite made sense for us as a business” until more recently, with changes in technology and available incentives.

“We always knew it was the right thing to do, and we just didn’t know how to get there,” she said.

Berner is a global manufacturer of air curtains, equipment installed at entrances of buildings to create an airstream barrier to keep conditioned air inside and unconditioned air out, thereby reducing energy consumption, Grady said. Such equipment on a standard door in New Castle would save approximately 27.5 tons of carbon dioxide annually and about $757 in utility costs.

In June 2022, the decision was made to install the array, which went active in November, Grady said. Made up of about 1,500 panels, it currently generates just shy of 1 gigawatt annually, more than enough for the company’s current needs.

“We built it a little bigger so that we could have excess capacity because we know we’re still growing,” she said. “The amount of energy that we’re creating is 160% of what we currently use, so that extra 60% is currently being sold back to the grid as clean energy.”

In addition, Berner plans to install electric vehicle charging stations for employees, she said.

“Pennsylvania’s legacy is energy innovation,” said Leo Kowalski, program director for the Pennsylvania Solar Center. The center, a 501(c)3 entity that helps organizations and companies interested in implementing solar energy technology by providing technical assistance and assisting with arranging financing, presented Berner with its Lodestar Award for its leadership in the solar energy field.

Now is a good time for organizations to consider solar because of rising energy prices and incentives such as those in the Inflation Reduction Act, which increased the tax benefit for such installations, Kowalski said.

Its assistance to Berner included helping secure a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for approximately $500,000, according to Grady. Berner already had decided to move forward with the project “with or without the grant,” but the funding helped, she said.

Despite perceptions that solar capture in Pennsylvania is not good, it is “really wonderful,” Kowalski said. The Berner building itself has a large, relatively flat roof with a “mild pitch,” so it gets “an enormous amount of sun,” he pointed out.

Several manufacturers in Lawrence County have a “similar profile,” he added.

“This project is not the end, but it’s a step toward sustainability for this company,” Grady said. “Our mission has always been to save energy.”

Berner’s focus on sustainability began years ago. In 2008, the manufacturer instituted a “green team” that helped launch a series of initiatives, including recycling programs, facility improvements and wastewater and waste stream audits. The company’s products also are designed to be more efficient and reduce energy consumption.

“We also work in our manufacturing area to reduce operational waste, and we’re currently replacing our fossil fuel vehicles with electric vehicles,” Grady said. From a supply chain perspective, the company also is looking to reduce its freight costs.

Joining company officials and employees at Thursday’s event were representatives of Energy Independent Solutions LLC, Carnegie, which installed the array, Ben Bush, CEO of Forward Lawrence, Lawrence County Commissioner Chris Sainato and surrogates for Pennsylvania Sen. Michele Brooks, R-50th, and Rep. Marla Brooks, R-9th.

“What you’re doing for the environment and for Lawrence County is a true asset,” he said.

Berner has been “one of Lawrence County’s most innovative manufacturers when it comes to sustainability” and has been a leader in the field, Bush said. The appetite for any business to follow its lead will come down to whether it will be beneficial to a business’s bottom line, which Berner has demonstrated.

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