Ramsey eyeglass firm sets sights on wind energy

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2008 - 12:37 AM

Eyeglass maker Vision-Ease Lens company officially joined the "green power" movement this week by announcing that it will buy 16 million kilowatt hours of wind energy, enough to power its large lens factory in Ramsey for one year.

The move makes Vision Ease the largest company in the state to undertake such an effort, following Buck Hill ski resort, Johnson Printing and Packaging Corp., Galactic Pizza, Fein Violins and consulting firm Sundays Energy. Those other Minnesota companies altogether are buying a little more than 2.5 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy.

Vision-Ease's green power effort began in March and signals a trend that more manufacturers are following Pepsi and Burt's Bees into the green energy movement now largely dominated by colleges, retailers and service firms such as Whole Foods and REI stores.

"As an Earth citizen, it's the right thing to do. There are not a lot of extra Earths that we can live on," said Vision-Ease CEO Doug Hepper. "Manufacturers have a responsibility to offer a better option for eco-minded consumers. ... [Reducing] carbon emissions as a manufacturer translates directly to consumers.

"We're giving them another, more important factor to consider when making lens purchases," Hepper added.

The trend had been dubbed the Green Power Partnership by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). More than 100 U.S. companies have opted to pay more to buy environmentally friendly energy made from wind, solar power, compressed switch grass and other biofuels, according to the agency.

Minnesota has mandated that most energy firms generate at least 25 to 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

The energy, often created by small wind, solar or biofuel farms, is placed directly on the tradition power grid with the intention of offsetting the amount of energy businesses and residences need from coal and natural gas.

The goal is to lessen the overall environmental impact of electricity and to support the development of new renewable generation capacity nationwide, EPA officials said.

Higher-cost energy

For Vision-Ease, the green project will raise its energy costs slightly. The company, which makes LifeRx photochromic, Illumina, SunRX and Coppertone polarized lenses for optical outlets around the world, will pay $100,000 extra per year to buy the wind energy.

Considering that the company generates $125 million in annual revenues, an extra $100,000 in electricity costs "is really not that much,'' Hepper said. "By switching to renewable power, we will avoid the release of more than 15,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each year."

The company operates out of a building that is about 150,000 square feet. And it runs injection-molding machines and ovens at temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

By buying green energy, Vision-Ease helps energy companies such as the Great River Energy cooperative and its 28 power distributing members invest in more renewable energy.

Besides green energy for the factory, Vision-Ease recently consolidated plants and reduced product shipments to save 12,500 gallons of gasoline and 113 metric tons of CO² emissions.

Those energy savings could provide a year's worth of electricity to 15 homes.

It also converted all lighting to fluorescent bulbs, saving 800 metric tons of CO², the company said.

Brian Burandt, an account representative for the power-distribution firm Connexus Energy, which delivers energy from substations to Vision-Ease, said that residential customers who opt for wind energy pay about $6 a month above their normal bill for 870 kilowatts of renewable energy.

Businesses such as Vision-Ease will pay about .0061 cents above traditional business rates that run about 6 to 10 cents per kilowatt, Burandt said.

"But the benefits far outweigh the [extra] cost in the long run," Hepper said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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