The San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm in Riverside County. (Courtesy photo)

Regional electricity grid would help small businesses spend less, go greener

As a small business owner in San Francisco, going green is an obvious choice. Like many Bay Area residents, I hold the beauty of our surrounding area dear to my heart and strive to think critically about ways I can live and work sustainably.

In 2014, my daughter and I opened Spicer on 3rd in the Dogpatch, after we bought a business called Sally Spice Bags. Our company, now known as Spicer Bags, sources materials like vegan cork fabric to construct eco-friendly, durable textile purses, duffle bags and totes.

As we planned our business, we thought about how to address issues of sustainability and aimed to have the smallest carbon footprint possible. We are proud to say that each and every one of our products is made in America, right here in San Francisco. To be even more eco-friendly, we donate many of our leftover materials to organizations like scrap-sf.org and to other makers.

Despite efforts to conserve energy, our small business must carefully manage our energy expenses and stay environmentally conscious. Electricity is one of the 10 biggest bills we pay every month, adding to major expenses like steep rent. To make matters worse, I discovered that some of my business’ electricity likely comes from dirty, polluting fossil fuel energy sources.

The solution could lie in the way California chooses to coordinate power generation with other states. Right now, the way we procure and distribute electricity for California is inefficient, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

California is part of a fragmented power grid system with 38 separate operators throughout the West, dispatching electricity across western states and parts of Mexico and Canada in a less than elegant fashion. The array of separate grid operators results in inefficiencies, raises costs for consumers, erodes reliability and inhibits the spread of clean energy resources like solar and wind. Because of inadequate coordination of power markets across the West, we occasionally have to turn off solar farms and other clean energy resources in California that could have been used to supply neighboring states.

Integrating our regional grid system does not mean new power lines crisscrossing San Francisco’s scenic neighborhoods. Rather, the grid would utilize existing infrastructure to provide cleaner, cheaper, more reliable electricity to all Californians, while reducing the likelihood of brownouts or interruptions to service.

From a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense for California to continue relying on costly fossil-fueled electricity generating plants when the technology to power our zero-emissions future is already here.

It is time we consider a well-coordinated regional energy grid. The first step is for the California legislature to pass a law transforming the state’s primary electricity system manager CAISO into a regional entity with a fully independent oversight board. Then, any state, utility or grid operator can participate and access the most cost-effective electricity sources across the West. Since renewable energy is always the cheapest to operate, this means more clean energy for all.

With a regional grid dispatching clean electricity, I can keep our lights and sewing machines humming, confident that we are operating sustainably and playing our part in the climate fight.

I always seek out environmentally friendly materials and practices for my business, keeping my customers and the planet happy. Why not do the same for our energy system? As an environmentally conscious small business owner, I support an integrated Western regional energy grid.

Bonnie Gemmell is co-owner of Spicer Bags.

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