High Electric Bills This Winter?

This is the time of year when we receive the most calls from customers concerned about high electric bills.  Temperatures have been colder; people were home for the holidays; and a lot of cooking, baking and entertaining occurred. When the bill arrives a month later, you may not associate these things with the higher energy use.

Herb Marshall Enery Audit
Herb Marshall

According to Herb Marshall, our Energy Conservation Coordinator who performs most of the in-home energy audits, he finds that portable space heaters and electric baseboard heat are the biggest culprit for higher bills in the winter. That’s why we developed a Space Heater Guide to help customers select the best space heater option for their needs.  Many customers don’t realize that space heaters cost about $0.15/hour to operate, but that can easily add up to an additional $30-$40 per month in cold weather!

Year round, we offer customers a free in-home energy audit to help identify ways to save energy and lower your electric bills, but this service is especially popular this time of year. We offer a number of other resources to help you save money and energy, as well as improve comfort in your home.  Check out our Energy Saving Tips and download one of our guides today!

Endangered Local Community Successfully Relocated

What do you do if you’re an electric utility in charge of a city’s streetlights and one of your light poles is taken over by a swarm of 40,000 bees?

That’s what one of our utility crews was asking while considering the fate of the hive of European honey bees in a light post near Mission College on December 23rd. A decision had to be made quickly, as the light post was scheduled for replacement within a few days.

SVP Division Manager Dave Padilla had no time to waste. His crew buzzed local beekeeper and extraction expert Art Hall. At the site, Art determined that it was best to remove the streetlight, bees and all, and relocate it to a private work area in order to more safely extract the bees from their home.

European Honey bees are currently threatened with extinction due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  In 2015, 42% of all the honey bee colonies in the United States died off. This is up dramatically from the alarming 30% die-off that has been happening each winter for the last decade. CCD is a new crisis and scientists are unsure as to what the definitive cause is. Needless to say, we must all do everything that we can to save as many honey bees as possible, since one-third of all the food we eat is a direct result of honey bee pollination.

Crew Foreman Mark Guerrero arrived with his team and began work to lift the pole off of its base. Once it was lifted off the concrete foundation, Art added some smoke to the inside of the pole, taking the sting out of the process by calming the bees. The opening was covered with a bag, and the crew placed the pole on a truck that transported it to the SVP construction yard.

Fellow beekeeper and SVP Principal Estimator Lenny Buttitta assisted Art in the extraction process. All 40,000 bees and their honeycomb are being relocated to a standard beehive box, and they will live out their lives at the Santa Clara 4-H Ranch on Brookdale Drive, where Lenny is in charge of the beekeeping program in his spare time.

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Just Say “NO” to Coal Power – SVP Going Coal-Free and Dropping Carbon Footprint

There’s little doubt that using coal to generate power is a losing proposition for the environment. Carbon emissions from coal-fired plants have been scientifically proven as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warning. So it’s a huge move for us to extricate ourselves from a contract that brought coal-generated electricity to Santa Clara.

After December 31, 2017, we will no longer import power from the San Juan Power Plant in New Mexico.

When SVP and two other public OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApower utilities entered into the San Juan agreement in 1983, there were few energy options available to utilities that had a responsibility to provide reliable power to their communities. By 2011, however, we realized that we could serve Santa Clara customers at a drastically reduced carbon emission level.

For the past four years, we have negotiated with the San Juan coal plant in the effort to cleanly exit the agreement without leaving huge legal bills or lawsuits for the City of Santa Clara to battle. The delicate negotiations required us to keep quiet about our efforts.

We have been committed to eliminating coal as a source of electricity for our customers and turned toward a combination of new renewable resources and the ultramodern Lodi Energy Center to replace the 51 megawatts of power from San Juan. This lets us be coal-free two years earlier than the 2020 deadline called for in the City of Santa Clara’s Climate Action Plan, effectively reducing the carbon footprint of our power by over 50 percent.

We hope our community joins us in celebrating the exit from coal, and we expect to remain well ahead of state or federally mandated renewable energy requirements for the foreseeable future while keeping electricity rates among the lowest in the state.

Read the full press release on our website.

Where Do SVP Customers’ Electric Bill Payments Go?

The City of Santa Clara monthly utility bill shows charges for several city services, including your electricity usage. Even though electric rates in Santa Clara remain the lowest in the state, rising costs require a rate increase of 2 percent in 2016, and many want to know why.

We wanted to ask customers about their understanding of our cost centers and how they might affect rates by choosing from the categories below. It’s helpful to know that we saved Santa Clara customers more than $100 million on their bills in 2014 compared to the rates paid in neighboring communities, where electricity customers pay up to 43 percent more for power.

See how you do in this quiz on where your electric bill payments go.

Which of the following expenses receives the most money from the bill payments made to SVP by customers?

  1. Salaries, Wages and Benefits
  2. Operations and Maintenance
  3. Maintaining Reasonable Profits
  4. The City of Santa Clara General Fund
  5. Purchased Power and Transmission

Answers:

  1. Is not correct. In fact, expenses for salaries, wages and benefits for our employees actually used just 8 percent of the our overall budget in the fiscal year 2014-15 and have remained at 7-8 percent of the budget for several years.
  2. Is not correct. Operations and maintenance, which includes replacement of aging infrastructure, modernization of our electric substations, and transition upgrades to the modern smart grid, receive about 10 percent of the revenue collected by us.  Even though 10 percent doesn’t seem like a lot, it keeps our power reliability in the top 10 percent nationwide.
  3. Is not correct.  Zero profits are reasonable for your locally owned, not-for-profit public utility.  However you judge it, profits are neither a cost center nor a motivation for us.
  4. Is not correct. The city’s General Fund supports the operations and services of the city and provides some services to us, but the city charter caps this amount at 5 percent of the revenue collected by SVP. This is instead of collecting a user tax from utility customers like most other cities do.
  5. Is correct. A whopping 71 percent of our budget goes for acquisition of the power used by our 53,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Santa Clara. Prior to the drought, purchased power ate up 64 percent of the budget in 2012. We own or contract for power from generating resources across the western U.S. such as geothermal in Sonoma and Lake Counties, wind turbines in California and Washington, solar from local and Kern County installations, hydroelectric in Northern California, local landfill gas and various other sources to assure that the city has the reliable power it needs at all times.

Even though the drought was one of the bigger drivers of increased cost recently, transmission costs associated with bringing the power to Santa Clara have tripled in the last five years and continue to go up.  Changes in the cost of purchased power and power transmission have the most impact on rates by far. Good decisions in this area have kept our rates low.dime_chart_ISC

A kilowatt hour (kWh) costs a bit more than a dime for most Silicon Valley Power customers. Here’s how the money from your electric bill payments is budgeted. The 5 percent of SVP revenue that goes to the City of Santa Clara general fund helps support City operations including police, fire, and library services.