This report highlights the critical role of energy efficiency in improving the economic and environmental performance of Midwest pulp and paper mills. WRI’s analysis finds that less efficient facilities could realize significant annual energy cost savings, and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions, by investing in initiatives to meet the industry’s national average efficiency level.

Executive Summary

Rising international energy and labor costs are combining with historically low natural gas prices and improving productivity in the U.S. to create an intermittent resurgence of American manufacturing. In a 2012 survey of company decision makers, the Boston Consulting Group found that 37 percent of manufacturers with sales greater than $1 billion were planning to bring back production to the United States from China or were actively considering it. At the same time that companies are looking to grow their American manufacturing capacity, the long-anticipated publication of the final Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule in January 2013 provided regulatory certainty that will generate new investments for compliance actions. These developments bring new opportunities for low- and net-negative-cost energy efficiency investments that improve economic competitiveness.

On a national scale, the pulp and paper sector has recently experienced contraction and consolidation. While production remains below year 2000 levels and employment has dropped steeply, the sector has recorded increasing levels of economic activity as reflected in total value-added. Between 2002 and 2011 U.S. paper manufacturing value-added grew by 8 percent while the number of employees declined by 30 percent. In this environment of consolidation, attrition, and increasing competition, energy efficiency serves as a determinant of pulp and paper mill survival. The information and case studies in this report demonstrate that investment in energy efficiency improvements can help facilities successfully compete while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

To help inform ongoing policy deliberations and to also encourage greater consideration of energy efficiency investments by U.S. manufacturing companies, this report focuses on one energy-intensive sector in a U.S. region that is politically, culturally, and economically geared toward manufacturing. This study is unique for using facility-level analysis with state-specific detail, plus representative case studies from different companies. The intent is to make industrial energy efficiency opportunities more visible and less abstract to state-level policymakers, utilities, businesses, and other interested stakeholders.

The report answers the following questions:

  • How do Midwest pulp and paper manufacturers compare with facilities located in other regions of the country in terms of their energy intensity?

  • What is the potential for near-term energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper manufacturing? How do the impacts of efficiency improvements compare with the energy and emissions impacts of fuel switching from coal and oil to natural gas alone?

  • What are the most cost-effective options available for reducing the energy- and emissions-intensity of Midwestern mills?

  • What policies currently affect paper sector energy use and emissions? What are the key barriers and policy solutions for pulp and paper, as well as other energy-intensive sectors?