DALTON -- In the late 19th century, Crane & Co. installed two turbines to harness the power of the nearby Housatonic River to provide energy to the Byron Weston Mill.
More than 100 years later, Crane -- as it is now formally known -- is still using the river to provide power to that mill on Main Street, but now with a state-of-the-art 250 kilowatt hydroelectric facility that is expected to provide the paper manufacturer with significant energy savings.
On Tuesday, Crane officially commissioned its new $2.7 million facility during a ceremony that was held at the mill, a building where one of the Berkshires' largest employers manufactures currency paper for the federal government.
Crane has been supplying currency paper to the federal government since 1879, and has been its sole supplier since 1964.
The new hydroelectric facility, located in the same spot where the original turbines were placed in 1896, is expected to generate about 1 million kilowatt hours of energy per year, which is enough to power about 80 homes, Crane CEO Stephen DeFalco said.
The new facility will reduce Crane's annual output of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide by 12,000 pounds, and the company's yearly output of greenhouse gases by 1.4 million pounds, DeFalco added.
"This project is the right thing to do for our environment, and the right thing to do for our business," DeFalco said. "It will pay back its investment in six years.
The new facility also maintains "the long and supportive history" between Crane and the Housatonic River, which runs next to the Byron Weston Mill, DeFalco said.
"The Housatonic River is the reason we're here today, and why Zenas Crane landed here in 1801," DeFalco said, referring to the company's founder. "The river powered a water wheel that powered his machinery."
In some areas, waste from paper manufacturing has been a major pollutant of waterways, but Crane has a long history of innovation and environmental stewardship.
In 2011, Crane announced that it planned to use Rapid Thermal Processing, a rarely used clean energy technology, to convert waste and scrap wood into biofuel that would be used to replace fuel oil in burners and generators by the end of this year.
"We have a strong desire to utilize sustainable energy whenever we can," said Douglas Crane, the company's vice president.
Crane's share of the product's total cost is $1.5 million. The rest of the funding came from several agencies, including $500,000 from the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance.
Construction began in January and was completed by the end of June. But the entire project took 10 years to complete, DeFalco said. Most of that time was spent on permitting and discussions with numerous state agencies, he said.
"This is something that we have all worked to support," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, referring to local, state and federal officials.
Gus Ogunbameru, of the Massachusetts office of Technical Assistance, said Crane first sought assistance from his agency when Berkshire utility rates rose significantly in 2007.
The original turbines, built in Lowell, were originally used to provide mechanical power for the mill, but began providing electric power in the early 1900s, said Crane project manager Jim Beaudin. They were decommissioned in the early 1950s.
One of those original turbines will be displayed at Crane's paper museum for historical purposes, Beaudin said.
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