Enjoy the Fire – But Don’t Let Your Fireplace Boost Your Energy Bill

A nice fire in the fireplace can help create the perfect atmosphere in a room on a cold flue_openwinter night during the holidays. While most of us enjoy such a scene, it’s important to note that your fireplace can be costing you money when it’s not in use. If you don’t keep the flue damper closed heat can disappear up the chimney. The damper is located inside the chimney flue and must be open when you have a fire and should be closed when there is no fire, usually using a handle, lever or chain attached to the damper. ­

There are some helpful tips on our website about keeping the heat in your home and saving money on your utility bill by closing the damper when the fireplace is not in use. Those tips include:

  • Wear dishwashing gloves while checking the flue and damper to help keep your hands clean.
  • If your flue damper has a loop, you can hang a small sign, piece of ribbon or even the fireplace poker from it to remind you when the flue is closed.
  • If you don’t have a damper or the one you have doesn’t fit properly, there are inflatable flue plugs available online to close off the flue.
  • An open flue not only sends your heat up the chimney in winter but will also vent cool air from your home during the summer.

It’s important to note that there’s more to that roaring blaze than meets the eye. While it chimney_illustration_v2-01gives off heat immediately in front of the fireplace, the heat going up the chimney is actually causing cool air to be drawn into your home through cracks and leaks normally found around windows, doors and wall penetrations for plumbing and electric outlets. That cold air then needs to be warmed by your home’s heating system.

Want to learn more about getting the most out of your fireplace for a warm, cozy and energy-efficient winter season? Visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and search the term “chimney” for additional tips.

Rate Increase Proposed by SVP; Electricity Rates to Remain Lowest in State

The necessity for system improvements, steadily rising costs to bring power to Santa Clara, and the need to replenish emergency reserves depleted by the drought are among the main reasons why we are proposing rate increases of 3 percent in 2017 and 2018. Our rates will still remain among the lowest in the state. Neighboring utilities are raising prices 11 percent or more next year.

Aging Equipment

Maintenance and upgrade projects include replacing 30-40 year old power poles, cross arms and neighborhood transformers as well as improving power lines to meet growing demand.

Our Director of the Electric Utility, John Roukema explains it this way. “Just like maintaining your car to make sure it doesn’t break down on the freeway, we have to replace aging and outdated equipment to prevent unexpected outages. Equipment failure during a heat wave, while working on a project you haven’t saved on your computer, or while getting the kids ready for school can be a real hardship for our customers.”

Costs Climb

The cost of bringing power into Santa Clara is also a factor in the proposed rate increase, as transmission costs have risen nearly 200 percent in the past few years. While a portion of the electricity used in Santa Clara comes from local SVP generating sources, most power comes from other regions providing energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal or other resources. Also, the cost to deliver natural gas to our power plants doubled this past summer as a part of PG&E’s pipeline safety program.

Electricity usage in the City increased nearly 8 percent last year, requiring an increased use of state-wide transmission services. On the bright side, this increase in sales allowed us to cover some of these rising costs and limit the rate increase to only 3 percent.

Drought Cost Offset by Reserves

Inexpensive hydroelectric power became scarce during the four-year drought, we were able to maintain low rates by dipping into our emergency reserves to offset the higher costs of more expensive energy. We must replenish our reserves so that we can be prepared for the next time there is a drop in low-cost power resources or in case wholesale prices suddenly rise. The reserves give us the stability to weather the storm and keep rates reasonable for our customers when power supplies go awry. The reserves also bolster our credit rating and reduce our cost to finance large projects.

Limit Inconvenience

We will do everything we can to limit inconvenience for our neighborhoods while our maintenance and upgrade program continues the next few years. In some cases there will be scheduled power interruptions and we will notify customers in advance when these are to occur. A planned outage certainly beats the pain of a sudden wide-spread outage caused by ignoring preventative maintenance.

We ask customers to be patient and understand that the system work and the rate increase, first and foremost, support reliable and reasonably priced power for our community.