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THE STORY IN BRIEF
Small businesses are now facing the kinds of environmental regulations that used to be of concern only to large smokestack industries. Helping these establishments navigate the web of technology choices and economic variables involved in regulatory compliance presents opportunities for utilities to encourage the application of electrotechnology-based solutions while building better customer relations. EPRI's support of such utility marketing efforts, which began with an environmental solutions handbook for eight key business sectors, is expanding to include information on a broader spectrum of small businesses. In addition, collaborative work with utilities is developing specific information on the marketing opportunities for electrotechnology solutions in individual service territories. The bottom line is to help member utilities build load while they, in turn, help their small-business customers become more energy-efficient and competitive.
The aroma wafting from the local bakery is, alas, a reminder that by-product emissions of ethanol from leavening yeast make many bakeries a significant source of volatile organic compounds--chemicals involved in the formation of urban smog. Another source of VOC emissions is the solvent-based paints used in virtually all auto body and repair shops. Dry-cleaning shops, meanwhile, routinely use a chlorinated organic solvent that is considered a probable carcinogen. Almost all the chemicals and solutions used in wood preserving, electroplating, and photofinishing are classified as toxic or hazardous or both. And commercial laboratories and medical clinics can generate a wide spectrum of infectious and hazardous wastes.
These seemingly disparate industries have several key features in common. All are characterized by a large number of small to medium-sized firms. Most business establishments in each industry employ fewer than 20 workers. In the past the disaggregated structure of these industries tended to shield them from strict environmental regulation of waste streams. But that is no longer the case. Laws passed in the 1970s that originally applied to factories and power plants have been expanded to cover nearly every small business in America. Amendments to four of five of these key federal environmental laws have significantly increased the compliance burden on small businesses, forcing near-term decisions that will affect their productivity and, ultimately, their long-term profitability and continued existence. Small businesses are now affected by regulations implementing the latest revisions to the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, as well as major laws covering solid and hazardous waste disposal. The 25-year-old Occupational Health and Safety Act's regulation of worker exposure to hazardous substances also extends to most small businesses.
"Utilities have a significant stake in such compliance decisions, since the stability and growth of their commercial customer base are affected by the survival of these businesses," says Morton Blatt, manager of the Residential & Small Commercial Business Unit in EPRI's Customer Systems Group. "Assisting these small-business customers in complying successfully with environmental regulations presents unique opportunities for electric utilities. Since many of the traditional as well as emerging environmental solutions rely on electricity-based technologies, marketing these technologies can not only help smaller commercial customers navigate the maze of environmental regulations but also assist the …