The Wisdom of Wind

Wind has come a long way since the 1980s in terms of the power industry and wind powerLooking up at wind turbine - with logo. It’s hard to believe that many of the wind turbines we put into action in 1982 were able to generate only about 100 kilowatts of energy, maybe enough to power about 36 homes when the wind was blowing at our first wind farm at Altamont Pass. Soon we will have giant turbines that can put out almost 2 megawatts (MW) of power each, enough to power 730 homes, and they’re more efficient (taking up less space for more power).

Plus they are a clean, green source of electricity.

The Altamont Pass location has changed in recent years. Towers now can be 100 feet or more in height, utilizing wind that is stronger and more consistent than breezes closer to the ground. Lattice support towers that encouraged bird nesting are being replaced by towers designed without nesting opportunities and bird collisions have been significantly reduced as modern turbine blades over 100 feet in diameter turn slower than those on older windmills.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that most windmills in the country are started when wind speeds are between 8 and 16 miles per hour and turned off when winds exceed 55 mph. Higher winds can damage the windmills, so operators remotely stop them from spinning.

Today we can generate almost 200 MW from wind for local distribution, using turbines at Altamont as well as power from wind farms in Washington and Southern California (see our energy resources map). Combining that wind energy with the electricity generated by solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and landfill gas resources, we’re able to keep our power generation for our Santa Clara customers over 40 percent carbon free.

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Call 811 Before You Dig!

811Eng_ver_RGBThe last thing anyone wants is a dangerous surprise while making a home improvement. Buried pipes give us convenient delivery of natural gas, water and electricity, but they also pose a serious threat if they are hit during any type of digging. The hazards lurk in front yards as well as backyards, and a mistake may not only cost you repair expenses, fines, and inconvenience – it can cause serious injury or even death.

Calling 811 two business days before you (or your contractor) dig connects you to a free call center that will take your project information and notify local utilities of your intention to break ground. Each utility will come out to your location within two business days and mark all underground facilities with temporary flags or spray paint at no cost.

Hitting a buried high-voltage power line, fiber optic cable, natural gas line or water pipe can be avoided. So call 8-1-1 before you:

  • install a sidewalk, steps or deck
  • dig a hole for a hedge, tree or fence
  • excavate for a pool
  • start any other project such as putting in a mailbox or adding a fountain.

Federal law requires you to call 8-1-1 two business days before you dig, and it just makes sense to make the call and be sure your project goes without any surprises.

When the West Coast Went Dark: What We Learned from Massive 1996 Power Outage

On August 10, 1996, a massive power outage struck Western North America, knocking out power in several U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California during a heat wave. In less than two hours, five high voltage power lines came into contact with trees in Oregon and Washington and a domino effect took out dozens of critical power lines as well as large electricity generating units from British Columbia and Alberta in Canada to New Mexico and Baja California. Since the nature of electricity is to flow in the most efficient direction (or path of least resistance), a tree can give it a way to flow straight to ground, interrupting power flow and causing breakers to trip when they sense a problem on the line. One such incident can impact a relatively small area, but a series of outages such as occurred in 1996 is a serious problem.

Power was out from a few minutes to six hours in California, according to a California Energy Commission survey, and the Union of Concerned Scientists says approximately 7.5 million people overall were affected by the power failure. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, those affected were located in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming and Washington, and Mexico’s Baja California.

What we and other utilities learned from this outage is that we need to proactively address hazards. We know that tree limbs cause outages, and we know that old and outdated equipment such as power poles and cross arms can fail. Trimming tree limbs before problems occur has long been part of our ongoing commitment to reliable delivery of electricity.

That’s why we encourage our customers to let us know if they see a branch that appears too close to a power line; we’ll inspect it and trim it if it’s a problem. We’ve also hired a company to accelerate our continuing replacement of power poles and cross arms, many of which are over 40 years old.

This ongoing methodical program of maintenance and system upgrades will continue for a few years, and it will increase our reliability and decrease the possibility of an unexpected power outage that can be inconvenient at best and create dangerous traffic and health facility problems at worst.