PITTSFIELD — Interprint Inc. is the latest Berkshire manufacturer to turn to solar power as a way to reduce its energy costs.
The Pittsfield manufacturer announced Tuesday that it's planning to invest $4 million in renewable energy, machinery and energy efficiencies at its plant on Route 41, including a 1-megawatt solar array expected to satisfy about 20 percent of the company's annual energy consumption.
"We're fortunate to have a pretty competitive contract right now with our electricity supplier, but we also recognize that electricity rates are volatile and trending in the wrong direction. Right now we have to pay for that," said Peter Stasiowski, Interprint's communications director. "This is one way to reduce the electricity and energy (costs) in the factory and offices."
Construction of the solar array is expected to start early in 2016. The system is expected to go online by the middle of next year. Half of the project's total cost is for the solar array's construction.
"Certainly, efficiency is the goal here if we can pay less for the same amount of lighting and power with electric rates being as unstable as they are," Stasiowski said.
In partnership with KRN Solar of Jackson, N.J., Interprint plans to install the array on the roof of its 138,000-square-foot facility. The array is expected to generate more than 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
As part of the project, Interprint is also converting 100 percent of its factory and office lighting from incandescent and fluorescent to LED. That conversion is expected to be completed by the end of December, and save the company 500,000 kilowatts of energy per year.
"Frankly, we're concerned that there is not going to be enough natural gas capacity to fire the generating plants," he said. "Rates are going to go up, and we have to be prepared for that."
Stasiowski said Interprint has been considering installing solar power since it constructed its current plant in 2006.
"When we built the building it was something we looked at but the solar panel technology back then made them heavy, meaning that our roof wasn't designed to support the additional weight," he said. "The technology has improved to the point where the panels are lighter so the roof weight is not a problem. It's very good timing."
Interprint is a worldwide leader in decor and printing. The new machinery will allow Interprint to produce new decorative overlay products on additional kinds of materials, like film and paper-based substrates, that complement the firm's traditional print decors.
"Right now we print on paper and polypropylene film," Stasiowski said. "The new machinery allows us to expand those offerings significantly."
In 2012, Interprint invested $2 million to print on oriented polypropylene film, which is also known as "OPP." Rising sales of OPP products and the technical knowledge learned over the last three years, have led Interprint to develop additional decorative overlay products. The new machinery provides those capabilities.
"As traditional products mature, companies must innovate to enjoy continued growth," said Interprint Co-Managing Director Bill Hines Jr. in a written statement.
"Interprint is fortunate to have the ingredients for successful innovation: a supportive board of directors, and a staff so willing to embrace change," he said.