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Lithographix Powers Its Future With Solar --Michelson

February 2009
BEING LOCATED in Southern California isn’t exactly one of the more business-friendly regions for a $120+ million commercial printing establishment to call home. With a state facing huge budget deficits, printers here deal with escalating business taxes, high labor and healthcare costs, severe traffic congestion and very strict environmental regulations. One ray of good news, though, is the area’s year-round moderate climate that results in an abundance of sunshine.

Lithographix Inc. has parlayed that one competitive advantage by recently completing a $4.5 million solar energy project, which is said to be the largest deployment of solar power infrastructure at any commercial printer in the United States and one of the largest of any type in the entire state of California. The rooftop of Lithographix’s 250,000-square-foot facility in Hawthorne is now adorned with 2,248 solar panels (see photos below). The array is expected to offset the commercial, retail and grand-format printer’s energy demands by 30 percent or about $30,000 a month. Creating enough clean energy to power the equivalent of 390 homes for a year, Lithographix’s new solar system reduces the plant’s carbon emissions by 630 tons per year (equal to removing the annual emissions of 125 cars). 

Lithographix financial executive Jeff Zebrack, son of company president Herb Zebrack, notes that his operation spends more than $100,000 per month on energy costs alone. He credits their banker, City National Bank, with having the connections to hire experts familiar with determining the scope of the solar project and with filing the mounds of paperwork necessary to receive rebates (22 cents per kWh) for five years from the California Solar Initiative program. Last June, Lithographix signed a 10-year, off-balance-sheet loan to finance the system, which is being leased through City National. The printer keeps the state incentives, and the bank takes ownership of the federal tax credits and depreciation, explains Zebrack. The ROI is expected to be revenue-neutral or slightly profitable for Lithographix for the first five years.

The solar installation also includes a monitoring system that tracks energy usage of key equipment, such as the printer’s three full-web presses, to gauge the source of peak demand energy spikes in a given month (one of the determinants of utility rates). “For example, we know to never start up two of our webs at the exact same time,” adds the financial exec. “We didn’t even contemplate things like this before. But, it’s the new world we live in.” 

Despite the solar system, Lithographix’s various ongoing recycling efforts and plans to install new energy-efficient lighting in the plant, Zebrack admits that—in the current tough economic climate—winning jobs still all comes down to price. “Today, no one is going to pay any more to deal with green vendors.” When the economy does stabilize, he expects that their efforts will provide a sales advantage with movie studios, as well as with progressive firms clustered in the San Francisco Bay area.

“Utilities may have to eventually buy renewable energy from private companies. Maybe we should get all of the companies around us to build solar plants on their rooftops, so we can then sell the clean energy back to the power company,” he quips. “It would sure be a lot easier way to make money than it is trying to earn a living as a printer today.”

Mark T. Michelson


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