WaferTech to save cool $200K on power

New energy-efficient system’s $1.6 million cost largely publicly financed

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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WaferTech, one of Clark County’s largest electricity consumers, has found a way to take a giant whack out of its power costs with a new energy-efficient cooling system built with heavy public and utility subsidies. On Thursday, the company is holding an open house to show off the $1.6 million project to state and local officials and industry representatives.

The Taiwan-based company, which operates the nation’s largest integrated circuit semiconductor foundry in Camas, expects to save approximately $200,000 annually in energy costs. It will reduce its energy consumption by up to 4 million kilowatt-hours annually, enough to power 350 homes for a year, according to Clark Public Utilities, which coordinated the project’s funding.

The new system uses the cool ambient air to bring down the temperature of water that has been warmed in the manufacturing process, reducing the need for mechanical coolers.

“They are able to tap into a resource that’s there because of our cool weather,” said Larry Blaufus, senior manager of energy technologies and services for Clark Public Utilities. “All the conditions have to be right. It’s actually brilliant.”

The project’s funding included $1,031,500 from the Bonneville Power Administration’s Energy Smart Industrial Program, which itself is financed by assessments to public utilities; $120,000 in stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; and a $100,000 grant from Washington State University. WaferTech contributed $352,000.

Blaufus notes that the technology industry historically has been unwilling to invest deeply in energy-saving technology without major public assistance because of its extreme cost competitiveness. Typically the industry seeks a 70 percent contribution from public and utility sources and wants a return on its own investment of less than two years, he said.

WaferTech is a subsidiary of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. It is the second-largest user of Clark Pubic Utilities’ power.