Whirlpool Wind Turbine - Putnam Sentinel
Towering over Whirlpool's Ottawa plant, the recently constructed wind turbine was brought online and is anticipated to provide 30 percent of the facility's annual energy needs. (Putnam Sentinel / Steven Coburn-Griffis)

OTTAWA — “Do you know the price of power in 20 years?” This question, says One Energy CEO Jereme Kent, is his favorite to ask anybody who’s involved with power generation, or even anyone who uses power, which is, of course, everyone.

“Whirlpool does,” continues Kent when discussing the new wind turbine that his company recently completed and connected to Whirlpool’s manufacturing facility in Ottawa. “Our price of power is locked, fixed, does not change for the next 20 years for Whirlpool. So for 20 years, Whirlpool knows the price of power.”

The new turbine will not supply the entirety of the facility’s electricity, it should be pointed out. Not yet. The new turbine is projected to provide approximately 30 percent of the facility’s energy annually. Still, as Kent emphasizes, this is significant, “Think about that as a manufacturer who has to deal with all the different raw materials and input costs and everything else. [Whirlpool] can run the most efficient plant in the world here, but if the raw input costs change, outside of the company’s control, what do you do? When you know the price of power, one of the biggest consumptions for any large industrial facility, that’s a very powerful tool. And, that’s something that Whirlpool has embraced across all of their facilities.”

Whirlpool’s Plant Leader in Ottawa, Jennifer Hanna agrees, saying, “There’s the value that’s very obvious in controlling the input costs. There’s also value in that this is a 20-year commitment. It shows Whirlpool’s commitment to clean energy. It shows Whirlpool’s commitment to the team members, to make sure that we’re looking for ways to make sure that we continue to be competitive, right here in Putnam County.”

First announced in May of 2016 as part of a three turbine deal with the Findlay-based One Energy, Whirlpool’s 25-story turbine is now live and providing power to the manufacturing plant. The other two turbines are located at Whirlpool’s Marion facility. According to Hanna, the completion of this project makes Whirlpool one of the largest Fortune 500 consumers of on-site wind energy in the United States. The company does not seem to be slowing down either, as Hanna points out, “It’s been a great partnership. Seeing Findlay’s success - you raise your hand and you want to be part that growing partnership and growing movement towards clean energy. So now we have some turbines at our Marion facility and we just announced [this past November] that we’re going to put [three] turbines up at Whirlpool’s Greenville facility.”

Though obviously proud to be producing appliances using a renewable energy source, economics is driving Whirlpool’s decision making. The exact terms of Whirlpool’s 20-year agreement with One Energy regarding the Ottawa plant have not been disclosed. For some insight into the potential savings for Whirlpool, Kent offers, “As a general rule, we’re doing cost of power in this area in the neighborhood of six cents per kilowatt hour. That’s kind of the Northwest Ohio average we’re seeing. In all cases with our Whirlpool projects, and all of our projects, the number has always been less than [the customer’s] current price of power. Typically, customers get between a five and 15 percent upfront savings.”

According to information provided in a fact sheet by Whirlpool, in exchange for a 20-year agreement, One Energy financed the entirety of the $3.5 million project, with no upfront costs to Whirlpool at all. In addition to the upfront savings and 20-year cost-certainty, the turbine alone will provide $9,000 annually in property taxes and Whirlpool has launched a $5,000 “Megawatt Scholarship” that will be awarded each year to a local high school student pursuing a two our four year STEM degree.

“I think the hope and dream for Ottawa was to, one, be part of the clean energy movement,” say Hanna, “But also, when you think about thirty percent of your energy usage, controlling your costs for twenty years and having that known, it really helps us look at our own infrastructure and make sure that we’re competitive. So we can make appliances competitively for our customers.”

“You know, it’s really interesting, when you talk to the team members, they connect to the fact that we have a turbine that provides power so the equipment they’re using is producing appliances for our customers. We spend a lot of time focusing on making more energy efficient appliances as well. Ten years ago, appliances consumed more energy than they do today. So it’s a natural tie-in for being responsible corporate citizens.”

“I’ve been with Whirlpool for 26 years,” Hanna continues. “I remember a time when we didn’t have wind energy to produce our appliances. So getting to see Findlay, a plant I worked at, start this journey, and then see Ottawa, Marion and even Greenville join-in, it’s just amazing to me to see that growth and be a part of that journey.”

And, what happens after 20 years?

“Do we think the turbines are going to last beyond 20 years, absolutely,” says Kent. “I have no idea if that’s 25, 30, 30 or longer. The turbines we use are also exceptionally low-wear turbines. They don’t have a gear box. A lot of the high speed parts that experience failure in 20 years, they just don’t exist in this turbine. They didn’t make them better, they just got rid of them. And so, we’ve kind of started asking ourselves, ‘So what do you think is going to break eventually, what is the wear part?’ And, we honestly don’t know. It’s a great position to be in. The practical reality is a 20 year deal is about as long as anyone is comfortable signing. We would love nothing more to extend and talk about the next 20 years after that, but we’ll see what 20 years brings.”