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JOHNSTOWN — “This has been a long time coming and we’re very excited about this,” said Jacqueline Kulback, CFO & Controller at Gautier Steel.

On Thursday, December 17, the mill officially started rolling steel plates, and began work to fulfill its first customer order the next day. Eventually, it will be rolling titanium and other specialty metals.

“This idea started years ago. Our facility had the capacity to do this based on our size and the carbon rolling that we do. But we needed a separate system to be installed for specialty metals,” said Kulback. “After a year of building and rebuilding this, we’re finally watching everything come together. This is huge for this area.”

The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies got a behind-the-scenes look as the mill did its early test runs. Through the Foundation’s Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund, Gautier received a $25,000 grant and a $500,000 loan to help to complete the nearly $20 million project.

“This project was a great mission-fit for our Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund for several reasons,” said Angie Berzonski, Foundation Program & Communications Officer. “The grant will be used for an LED lighting retrofit for their office building. That alone is expected decrease their energy usage by about 140,000 kWh and save them almost $10,000 annually. But the installation of the new mill has been engineered to be extremely energy efficient, and that is why we were also able to award a $500,000 loan for this project. The variable frequency drive controls on the motors will save 2.8 million kWh and $199,080 annually, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2,565 metric tons. In addition, they have upgraded their water treatment plant so that they can filter and recycle the water needed for the system, and that is anticipated to save 630,969 kWh and $44,168 annually, and reduce emissions by 435 metric tons.”

Beyond the energy efficiency, funding this project will help to create and sustain jobs in the Johnstown region. Gautier currently employs just under 100 workers, and they expect to add up to 40 more once the mill is ramped up to full production. One of the mill’s anticipated clients is the U.S. Department of Defense because the titanium plates that will be rolled here can be used by the military for its armored vehicles. “The energy savings are the primary interest of the Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund, but it is also particularly interested in projects that have positive economic impact on the region it serves. This project certainly meets that part of its mission, too,” explained Berzonski.

There are several factors that make this project unique. One, the energy efficient drive controls are being used on two refurbished WWII-era Westinghouse motors that have been brought in from Alabama, repurposed, and rebuilt. Two, there is nothing else like this being done in the area. Three, it is using recycled water from the Quemahoning Reservoir.

“This is monumental for us as a company and for the area,” said Kulback. “We see this quickly expanding as the need continues to grow. This is a $5.1 billion dollar industry. Everyone at Gautier Steel is excited for what this new capability has to offer for not just the company, but the region.”

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