Keep the “ZAP” Out of Your Backyard Power Use

Most of us are pretty vigilant about how we use electricity inside our home, where a fire or stray spark can have catastrophic results. But how much attention is paid to those light switches, outdoor plugs, extension cords and electric tools used outdoors?

There are some common sense rules of thumb, such as not using metal ladders near electrical lines and turning your power off at the fuse box before working on any electric switches, light fixtures, wiring or other electrical components. But there’s a lot more to outdoor safety.

A key component of averting an electrical mishap is a GFCI – a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. A GFCI, or GFI, is an inexpensive electrical device that can either be installed in your electrical system or built into a power cord to protect you from severe electrical shocks. Consider having GFCIs installed in locations required by the National Electrical Code, such as kitchens, bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements and near laundry tubs or wet bar sinks.

Here are some more tips (and a great checklist!) from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to avoid electric shocks or fires:

  • Have GFCIs installed or plug in a portable GFCI when you use an outdoor outlet. GFCIs are sensitive to moisture and should be protected when used outdoors.
  • Have weatherproof covers installed and keep them closed on unused outlets and switches. If outlets must be used in wet weather, install a “weatherproof while in use” cover.
  • Use extension cords marked specifically for outdoor use, and be sure they are three-pronged and plug into a three-prong outlet. Without a ground prong, GFCIs won’t work and you become the grounding rod! Check for cracks or exposed wires and discard any cords that are defective.
  • Avoid using power tools in damp or wet locations. If a tool gets wet, unplug it before touching it. Let it dry thoroughly, and if it was immersed, have it tested at a qualified repair center before using it again.
  • Use battery-powered tools if possible.

To learn more about how a GFCI works, check out the short video from the Electric Safety Foundation International (ESFI).

We’ve Got the Largest Public EV Charging Center in CA…for Now!

Panorama of EVsWhy would anyone want to set a record, only to turn around and say they can’t wait until that record is broken?

Well, that’s what we’re saying here ever since we opened the largest public electric vehicle charging center in the state. On April 20, 2016 the Santa Clara Electric Vehicle Charging Center came on line at Santa Clara’s Tasman Parking Garage located near Levi’s Stadium, the Santa Clara Convention Center and the Great America theme park. With 49 charging spots, it’ll serve EV drivers in that destination-rich environment. And a California Energy Commission grant paid for just about all of it.

But what’s coming up is even more exciting! Our charging center surpassed the previous record holder, nine chargers at a supermarket on Mowry Ave. in Fremont, which set that record in December 2015. We won’t be surprised if the growing number of charging locations includes one with 50 or more chargers in the very near future. Private companies are already on the bandwagon – reports say the new Apple campus in Cupertino will feature numerous EV chargers for employees.

A leading industry publication, Smart Grid News, echoed remarks made by Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor when it called the Santa Clara Center a “climate change milestone” with its one Fast DC charger and 48 Level 2 chargers. says a Fast DC charger can “fill up” an EV in as little as 30 minutes while the Level 2 power pushers take more time.

The cost of driving an EV in Santa Clara can be around $0.04 a mile, based on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimate. Since EV battery capacities and range vary considerably, the DOE has a Vehicle Cost Calculator to better estimate your overall expenses.

We collaborated with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Joint Venture Silicon Valley, ChargePoint and MJR Electric to make the charging center a reality. It may be the largest in the region for now, but we will be cheering for more and even larger EV charging centers for the growing number of EV drivers.

Yes – YOU Can Prevent Power Outages

Power outages are a pain and inconvenience for just about everyone. The good news is that many outages can be prevented if we take care around power equipment.

Animals getting into power stations or power lines cause multiple outages every year. Often these animals are being fed on a regular basis by humans near power equipment, making the area attractive for creatures like squirrels and birds. Animals caused at least 17 outages in Santa Clara in 2015. In fact, the Washington Post this year had an article entitled “Are Squirrels a bigger threat to the power grid than hackers?” and linked to a map of squirrel “attacks” in the U.S.

By not feeding wild animals like squirrels, people can discourage those critters from making their home in the vicinity of underground vaults or substations where they like to search for food or shelter. That can prevent power outages as well as save the lives of our furred and feathered friends.Balloon Photo Near Power Lines with logo

Helium balloons can wrap around power lines, pulling them close enough to each other that they arc and fail. Foil or “Mylar” balloons can also cause lines to “short out” and fail. Holding on tight to helium balloons just makes good sense. As the question asks in our balloon safety video, “Remember how much fun your last power outage was?” (Check out the “behind the scenes” look at the making of our video, too!)

Tree limbs near power lines are a major cause of power outages. If you see limbs close to an electrical line, call us at 408.615.6500.and we’ll schedule a pruning. Don’t wait. The next wind or rain storm could be the one that puts you in the dark.

Many power lines and other utility conduits are buried underground. Before you start digging or have someone else dig, call 8-1-1 to make sure you don’t get a nasty surprise while excavating a hole or trench.

power outage by cause 2015