PG&E looks to customers in the battle against global warming
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is one of the first businesses to tap into a new PG&E program that allows energy consumers to take responsibility for their greenhouse-gas emissions.
“We’re working on becoming a carbon-neutral business,” said Cheri Chastain, Sierra Nevada’s sustainability coordinator. “If we don’t take care of our environment, then we won’t have a good product.”
The ClimateSmart program allows all PG&E customers to offset their emissions by paying a monthly fee that the utility company then invests into greenhouse-gas reduction projects. Customers can sign up for the program on PG&E’s Web site and can quit at any time.
Each customer’s fee is calculated based on energy use, with the typical household paying less than $5 a month. Add business customers to the program, and PG&E expects to raise about $20 million by 2010.
“We certainly hope our customers will sign up in significant numbers,” said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno. “We are very up-front with our customers that this is a voluntary program. For some homes, $5 a month could have some [financial] impact.”
PG&E has committed $1.5 million over the next three years to offset its own carbon emissions from offices and other business facilities. The company serves about 15 million people in the state, providing gas, electricity or both to more than 9 million accounts.
So far, more than 700 PG&E employees and customers, including Sierra Nevada, have signed on, Moreno said.
“Exactly how it’s going to play out, we just don’t know,” he said. “We have more residential customers than business customers, but business members use more electricity.”
The principle of offsetting is simple: Funding is invested in emission-reduction projects to help balance the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by customers during their business practices or their everyday lives.
Under ClimateSmart, 100 percent of the money donated will be spent on new projects in California. The projects must be certified under the strict protocols of the California Climate Action Registry, which PG&E joined about five years ago as a charter member.
At this time, the only projects up for consideration are forest preservation and methane collection from livestock operations.
The registry is a nonprofit organization, and membership is voluntary. Its 269 members report their yearly greenhouse-gas emissions online, and the data is subject to third-party evaluation.
“We teach corporations how to measure their greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Nancy Whalen, registry marketing manager. “If you follow the protocols, you can accurately count the emissions.”
She said the process of reporting, verifying, calculating and publishing takes about a year to complete. PG&E’s carbon footprint from electricity production was last reported at 2,976,555.94 metric tons. As a business, its emissions amounted to 1,170,023 metric tons.
Registry members report only their carbon dioxide emissions for the first three years. After that, they are required to report carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, perflurocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. Those six greenhouse gases were identified in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which is an agreement between 130 countries to address global warming.
Although the United States was not one of the countries to ratify the protocol, many companies are taking the responsibility upon themselves.
Sierra Nevada was a member of the registry before PG&E introduced Climate-Smart. Chastain said the company’s participation with the organization had a major influence on the brewery’s decision to take part in the PG&E program.
“The sooner we act, the better,” she said. “Even though there aren’t regulations in place, it’s important to take these steps without being told.”
Through Climate-Smart, the brewery will be paying less than 1 cent per kilowatt-hour of electricity and about 7 cents per gas-therm used, which Chastain estimates will amount to $80,000 to $90,000 in contributions per year.
Sierra Nevada has been a strong proponent of the eco-friendly business model for many years. The brewery already operates bacteria-eating water purification processes that produce methane to power hydrogen fuel cells. A solar array project is also in the works and should be completed in the fall.
“We feel comfortable with the [ClimateSmart] program,” Chastain said. “We want people to know that this is just a piece of the puzzle.”