Opinion: Sierra small businesses support CA computer efficiency standards | SierraSun.com

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Opinion: Sierra small businesses support CA computer efficiency standards

For small businesses, the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) plans to issue the nation’s first energy efficiency rules for computers and monitors represent a potential boost to the bottom line.

Across the nation, small businesses spend about $60 billion on energy each year. As we become ever more dependent on computers, it becomes increasingly important that computers and monitors use energy efficiently.

Here in California, it’s estimated that about seven percent of energy use in the commercial sector goes towards powering computers and monitors.

At the Sierra Business Council, 80 percent of our members are small businesses. Keeping costs down is essential to their survival. Small business owners understand that wasting energy wastes money.

“Across the nation, small businesses spend about $60 billion on energy each year. As we become ever more dependent on computers, it becomes increasingly important that computers and monitors use energy efficiently.”

They also understand that using energy efficiently helps protect our air, water and land in the Sierra Nevada, and helps keep our communities strong and healthy. Controlling energy waste helps keep a lid on pollution. That matters for all Californians, and it’s especially important in our unique, rural part of the state.

Reducing power-plant pollution is a key component of reaching California’s climate and clean energy goals, and the proposed computer standards will play an important role.

Business people know that when it comes to standards, the details can be devilish. You don’t want to overdo regulations, and you also don’t want to wind up giving industry a free pass that limits consumer savings.

The state’s proposed computer and monitor standards are technology-neutral, and designed to foster the kind of innovation that spurs economic growth. If implemented with consumer savings in mind, they will take the pressure off the bottom line of small businesses.

It is clear that the draft rules were designed to minimize compliance costs. It’s estimated the standards might add up to $14 to the cost of a machine, if manufacturers decide to pass all of their additional costs onto consumers, though these numbers are often overestimated prior to implementation.

On the benefit side, the new standards will save buyers up to $58 per machine over five years. Add up all the energy saved across the state, and the CEC projects annual utility-bill savings of $370 million. That’s money that consumers and businesses can put to good use ­ growing our local economies.

Small business owners see one more benefit in the standards: saving time. If you own a small business, you wear a lot of hats. You might serve as CEO and head of sales and human resources director and chief technology officer, all rolled into one busy person.

Even if you have computer expertise, you don’t have a lot of time to study the specs and see which computers are likely to incur the lowest energy costs.

By leveling the playing field and guaranteeing that all computers and monitors use less energy, the proposed efficiency standards will free small business owners from having to spend time comparing running costs, while still ensuring their businesses don’t waste money on energy-guzzling computer technology. 

The proposed standards include exemptions and allowances for new features, so that computer technology can continue to develop unfettered. This kind of flexibility makes sense ­ with a caveat.

Given how quickly computer features go from being cutting-edge to commonplace, the CEC will have to make sure that loopholes don’t end up sabotaging overall energy savings. Small businesses want assurances that the energy savings they are promised actually are delivered.

Assuming the CEC finalizes the rules as expected in the next few months, we will be keeping an eye on implementation, and request that there be a method in place to phase-out loopholes that may unnecessarily reduce the efficiency of machines.

These standards represent a milestone for the state, with the potential for far-reaching impacts. Since there are no national energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors, California’s policy approach could well become the de facto industry standard while also influencing international energy trends.

So California’s computer efficiency standards will not only be good for small businesses in the Sierra Nevada region ­ they may well benefit small businesses around the world.

Steve Frisch is president of the Sierra Business Council. Visit sierrabusiness.org to learn more.