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February 22, 2013

Federal bill almost kills product line at HH Technologies

BREMEN — HH Technologies President Shawn Crider has been making and selling specialized, industrial roll-up doors for nearly a decade at his Cullman County business. Sales were growing at an impressive rate, too, until a small section of a federal law made the popular product illegal for use.

Dubbed RollSeal doors, the product line accounts for between 30-40 percent of the company’s profits. Businesses such as Walmart and grocery stores nationwide use the system to replace traditional steel, hinged doors to access walk-in freezers. The automated doors automatically seal when closed.

The only problem? The federal Energy Independence and Security Act included a definition for freezer doors, stating they must be a certain size and feature a hinge.

“Essentially, the way the law was written didn’t allow us to sell and manufacture our more efficient door system,” Crider said. “The government just oversteps its boundaries some times. In this case, it was to the point that there are so many mandates that you can’t make new technology.”

Crider and his company have spent the past two years crusading to get the law changed, and with the help of U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt and Senator Richard Shelby they finally crossed the finish line late last year.

The federal legislature passed the American Energy Manufacturing Technical Corrections Act of 2007, which is said to allow for innovations and alternative technologies that meet or exceed desired energy efficiency goals. The measure amends the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, making technical corrections to the law. The act also allows for HH Technologies to apply for a waiver to legally continue manufacturing and selling RollSeal doors.

“Senator Sessions and Congressman Aderholt have been unbelievable to work with,” Crider said. “What really impressed me was this wasn’t all about helping out a Boeing, or some massive company. The effort they put in to help out our company, out here in Cullman County with 120 people, was great.”

Sessions visited HH Technologies as part of a regional industry tour Thursday to get a first hand look at the manufacturing operation the legislative work helped keep alive.

“It was a near run thing, and this company would’ve been hammered without relief,” Sessions said. “We finally got it through, and if that hadn’t happened, it may have been much longer before it was fixed ... It’s really pleasing for us.”

Considering a seemingly innocuous definition in an environmental bill almost cost a Cullman County industry 30 percent of its business, Aderholt said this situation is a learning experience for citizens and legislators alike.

“It’s an important lesson that years ago, with good intentions, Congress passed a bill requiring a certain type of door,” he said. “Now we find out that it didn’t really do anything the original bill was supposed to do. We need to be more careful about the laws we pass, because they can have unintended consequences.”

Cullman Economic Development Agency (CEDA) Peggy Smith said Sessions’ support is much appreciated, and shows the senator pays attention to the needs of a smaller community in his district.

“It’s really great they were concerned enough about local industries in this district to pursue this change and add these positive changes to the bill that now allows our own HH Technologies product to be included under the terms of the bill,” she said. “It really means a lot to this industry and the people of Cullman County.”

The legislative measure reportedly makes technical corrections to the Energy Independence and Security Act to reduce regulatory burdens by correcting clerical errors made and eliminating any problems caused by the errors. These corrections include updating the uniform efficiency descriptor for covered water heaters, clarifying language regarding regulatory treatment for small duct high velocity systems made by U.S. manufacturers, coordinating research and development of energy efficient technologies for the industry, and establishes a separate, less stringent standard for over the counter commercial refrigerators, that due to large glass windows are inherently less energy efficient than other commercial refrigeration products.

The act also allows for the inclusion of walk-in cooler and freezer technologies that are more energy efficient than systems that are currently required in the law’s narrow definition.

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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