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An Interview with Dick Soule Refrigeration
Dick Soule Refrigeration of Enosburg Falls has been servicing dairy and commercial businesses in New England and Eastern New York since 1967. The company specializes in the sales, installation, and service of dairy and commercial refrigeration, and dairy parlor technology systems.The company received the Energy Leadership Award from Efficiency Vermont at the 2020 Best Practices Exchange. Our interview focused on the agriculture side of the business.
Can you tell us a little about the company and its recent history?
Chelsey Lawyer: The company has two names: R. Soule and Sons, and Dick Soule Refrigeration, which is how most people know us. In 2017, Nathan Hale purchased the company from Richard Soule III after working here for many years. I've been with the company since October 2019. I support Nathan with day-to-day operations, strategic planning, and budgeting.
Dick Soule Refrigeration specializes in both agricultural and commercial work. In fact, we’ve been able to incorporate a lot of our commercial work into the agriculture world. We want to be a leader in both markets.
Micah Murray: We are using the evolution of commercial technology to apply to agriculture. We have pretty open conversations with our farmers and suggest ways to help them run the farms more efficiently. They’re looking to cool their milk fast and keep it cool. We can do a new install or make custom parts to swap out in existing systems and make them run more efficiently.
Where does the emphasis on efficiency come from?
Chelsey Lawyer: Nathan Hale is very focused on R&D projects. He lives and breathes refrigeration. He loves thinking about how we can do it better. Because of this, we now install a lot of custom-built equipment and use our own Dick Soule custom-built controls on many projects. That means we’re able to control refrigeration systems better, more efficiently; we are able to really dial in on the systems.
Micah Murray: Yes, and these control boxes are always data logging. So we can see [patterns in] what’s going on with the equipment and we can adjust it remotely. That’s a huge advantage for both us and the farmers—we don’t have to travel to the site. For example, we can modulate the glycol pump and make adjustments to our head pressure settings (controlling how much liquid refrigerant or glycol is flowing through the system) remotely. We’ve found lowering the head pressure settings can make the system function 15–20% more efficiently.
Controls also affect the washing systems for milk tanks and milking parlors. We can make an adjustment remotely, and the farmer tells us what effect it’s having.
Can you give us another example of the technology transfer?
Micah Murray: In our custom chiller, we’ve taken the electronic expansion valve from the commercial world and brought it to agriculture, using it instead of a mechanical expansion valve. We maximize the overall heat exchange throughout the chiller and ultimately use less energy.
Chelsey Lawyer: We also built a custom rack system that powered a whole grocery store. Now that we’ve done that, we can bring that technology to our agriculture customers. Our ag customers often look to us for suggestions on how they can run things better, like cooling the milk or washing the tanks. How can washing be made more efficient? Micah Murray: Every time the milk is picked up, the farmers are required to wash the tank. That might happen daily or every other day. And that could be a 10,000-gallon silo. We focus a lot on the soap cycle and getting very hot water, 180 degrees, to use soap to its full potential to keep bacteria counts low. We recover heat from the compressor to help heat that water.
Chelsey Lawyer: Farmers also get a lot of bang for their buck by repurposing water using free heaters, which is fairly standard in the agricultural world now.
The BPX award you received in 2020 noted that Dick Soule Refrigeration “has completed over 100 high-efficiency condensing unit installations in Vermont dairy farms and commercial businesses since 2016, saving significant energy use.”
Chelsey Lawyer: We installed a significant number of high-efficiency condensing units in 2020, all at dairy farms. The older units can consume a lot of energy, and our service technicians spend a lot of time just keeping those older systems going, with a band-aid approach. Electric bills for farms are so high that anything we can do to reduce their cost is extremely helpful for [farmers]. With the help of Efficiency Vermont, we were able to actually replace the old units at an affordable cost, which reduces not only energy consumption but also their repair bills moving forward.
So that was one positive for 2020. How did the pandemic affect the business in general?
Chelsey Lawyer: It changed our internal precautionary measures. We make sure the trucks are cleaned and wiped down, and we keep the same drivers in the same trucks as much as possible. We have two teams, the installation team and the service team, who come in at 6:00 am and 7:00 am respectively, which keeps them segregated from each other. Our team members also always mask up when they go to customer locations. I am in the office full time, but we have limited staff in the office—just myself, an inventory specialist, and our accountant once a week. Honestly, we have been incredibly lucky.
You never had to shut down?
Chelsey Lawyer: We really couldn’t shut down. We have a 24/7 paging service, and people have emergencies regardless of the pandemic. Farmers couldn’t stop milking, which means our service team needed to be there to support them. If their cooling goes down for their milk, they need service immediately to ensure that milk temperature remains within the regulatory standards, or they will have to dump it.
We also service restaurants, food manufacturing plants, and convenience stores, which, for the most part, remained open as well. Some customers were maybe more cautious, and deferred doing some work, but service work was still imperative. If our commercial customers have a cooler or freezer go down, they too are at risk of losing costly product. We need to get there quickly.
Can you tell us how Efficiency Vermont and the EEN are helpful for the company?
Chelsey Lawyer: Absolutely. There are a lot of amazing aspects as far as the network is concerned. We [also] appreciate Efficiency Vermont’s dedication to helping us work with our customers. We often reach out to Efficiency Vermont for help calculating ROIs for customers, figuring out “How long before you pay off this energy efficiency investment?”
Right now we are working on doing another rack system for a store. We think, “What are ways we can build on the last work we did? How do we continue to improve this product for our customer?” Efficiency Vermont can be a sounding board for those questions. And the financial support—having incentives for products and projects—that helps us help our customers. We just completed a large CO2 rack installation and had members of the Efficiency Vermont team supporting that project.
Going back to the agricultural innovations we’ve talked about, and Nathan Hale as the relatively new owner, do you think he saw this as an unmet business need or was he personally interested in efficiency?
Chelsey Lawyer: Nathan and his team are really always thinking about how we can optimize things. We could be wrapping up the greatest project we have ever done, and I guarantee you 20 minutes before it’s finished they are thinking, “How can we do it even better next time?”
He’s gathered bright minds around the projects he wants to deliver for our customers. He met his wife, who’s a third-generation dairy farmer, while working on a farm. The agricultural community is very important to Dick Soule Refrigeration.
Micah Murray: Before I worked here, I was a dairy farmer myself. The company is diversified—in addition to refrigeration, we do mechanicals and maintenance of equipment beyond refrigeration. But our passion at Dick Soule’s is agriculture.
Interested in becoming a part of Efficiency Vermont's Efficiency Excellence Network? Making Vermont more energy efficient is a collaborative effort and would not be possible without a strong network of independent contractors. In 2014, Efficiency Vermont created the Efficiency Excellence Network in order to better support and encourage Vermont contractors to provide energy-efficient solutions in the field. There are currently over 400 members in the Efficiency Excellence Network, including Dick Soule Refrigeration of Enosburg Falls, Vermont.