These devices may be quietly driving up your home’s energy use

Dish Space HeaterDo you know which systems and appliances in your home use the most electricity? Many people might guess that their heating and cooling systems are the biggest energy users – and for years, that was true. However, the digital revolution means that plug-in appliances are playing an increasing role in the typical home’s energy consumption. We often see three common electrical appliances that can unexpectedly raise customers’ energy use.

Gaming consoles and DVRs seem harmless, but they tend to use much more energy than customers realize. This is not only because consumers are acquiring more entertainment devices, but also because those devices are plugged in all the time, sucking out “vampire power” even when not in use. We advise customers to unplug their devices when not in use, turn to a low power mode, or consider investing in a smart power strip.

While their warmth might be great on a cold winter day, space heaters can heat up your electricity bill if used extensively. Some of our customers use multiple space heaters to heat their whole homes all day long. Others continue to use their space heaters after their circuit breakers trip (i.e., outlets shut off). This is not an ideal way to heat your home. First, if your circuit breakers trip while using a space heater, your electrical system has overloaded and automatically shuts off to prevent a fire. Second, central heating is the most efficient and economical way to heat a large space or your whole home. We recommend only using one space heater at a time and using it to warm up a small space for a short period (one – two hours a day). To find the best space heater for your needs, check our Space Heater Guide and entertaining Space Heater Video.

Another appliance that may be using more energy than you’d think is your second fridgeKill-a-Watt electric consumption meter or supplemental freezer. Having that extra cold storage in the garage for extra beverages might be great for entertaining, but be smart and consider unplugging it during off-seasons or between holidays.

Interested in learning more about how your home is using electricity? Sign up for our free, in-home energy audit or borrow a Kill-A-Watt meter from our free Tool Lending Library.

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Cheers to cleaner power for Santa Clara in the new year!

On January 1, 2018, you’ll wake up, roll out of bed, and get ready to start your day. As you flip on the lights, you won’t feel any different. However, something will have changed. Starting in the new year, the electricity that powers your lights, your coffee maker, your morning news – your entire home – will be more sustainable.

How is that possible? We are eliminating coal power from Santa Clara’s electricity supply portfolio by divesting from our small share in a San Juan coal plant. Starting January 1, 2018, all of the electricity supplied to your home will be generated by various renewable, hydroelectric and natural gas resources. This means your carbon footprint will be reduced – without you having to change a thing. It’s that simple.

For years, we used coal power because it was reliable and affordable. However, coal contributed over half of Santa Clara’s carbon emissions from electricity use last year, while making up only 10 percent of our power mix. We knew we needed to move beyond coal in order to reach our sustainability goals.

As a community, moving away from coal will reduce our carbon footprint from electricity use by about 50 percent. This transition to cleaner energy will not only place us ahead of the City of Santa Clara’s Climate Action Plan, but it will also allow us to maintain some of the lowest electricity rates in the state. You might think that cleaner energy would be more expensive, but evolving market forces have made many of these sources more affordable. Powering our homes, businesses, and schools with cleaner energy not only makes sense for the environment, it makes economic sense, too.

We’re proud to move into the new year coal-free. Santa Clara customers who want to do more to decrease their carbon footprint can choose to sign up for our 100 percent wind and solar power option, Santa Clara Green Power.

Read the full press release on our website.

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San Juan Coal Plant

 

 

The Future is Bright in Santa Clara

When driving, biking, or walking at night, what is your number one concern? For most people, safety gets the top spot. Visibility is tied closely to safety on the night street: nighttime driving is three times more dangerous than driving in the day and well-lit streets allow drivers to see pedestrians from twice the distance they do on poorly lit roads. That’s why we’re excited to move forward with Phase 2 of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, beginning this week.

LED street and intersection lights provide improved visibility and more controlled coverage than traditional lights. This is because LEDs spread light more evenly across an area and more precisely control where light is directed. That means less light pollution and more uniform lighting with less dark spots between poles, which results in a safer walk or ride for residents.

In June 2015, SVP completed Phase 1 of its LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, installing over 5,000 new LED streetlights. Phase 2 is expected to finish in early 2018 and will modernize intersection lights in southern Santa Clara as well as some streetlights in the northeast.

Not only do these LED street and intersection lighting upgrades mean safer nighttime trips, they also cut down on energy use. LEDs use up to 50 percent less energy than currently installed high-pressure sodium and mercury vapor streetlights. This translates into real energy savings: the 5,000+ LED streetlights installed in the first phase of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project save us three million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That’s enough energy to power 600 homes!

LED street and intersection lights also reduce our operational costs. LEDs last up to four times longer than the existing streetlights, which reduces lighting maintenance costs and bulb replacements.

Implementing this technology on a larger scale will help the Santa Clara community achieve a brighter and greener outlook on life.

Brighten up your holidays with home energy efficiency and safety tips

The holiday season brings bright decorations, holiday cooking, visits from family and friends, and festive gatherings – which can also mean an increase in home energy use. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season also makes energy safety more important. Did you know electrical accidents and home fires occur most frequently from December through February? We’re here to help with tips for keeping your home bright, efficient, and safe.

Lighting 

2017 tree with LEDs
Holiday tree with energy efficient LED lights

ENERGY STAR-certified LED lights are perfect for those looking for festive decorations without a spike in energy use. LEDs use 70 percent less energy than traditional lights and last up to 10 times longer.

Ensure your holiday lights are safe by checking each set of lights for frayed wires or damages before use. LEDs run at cooler temperatures so they are less likely to start a fire, but no matter what type of lights you use, it’s important to turn them off before going to bed or leaving the house.

For more helpful tips on using LEDs, read our Holiday LED Guide.

Fireplace

A cozy fire in the fireplace can create holiday cheer, but as much as 80 to 90 percent of the heat produced by a wood-burning fireplace can escape through the chimney if used ineffectively. To keep heat inside your home, close the flue damper when the fireplace isn’t in use. The damper should only be opened when a fire is burning.

For more helpful tips on fireplace dampers, visit our Fireplace Efficiency Guide.

Managing Electricity Use

With extra decorations and social gatherings in the home, high electricity bills can be prevented by choosing efficient lighting and decorations. You can also manage energy use by using timers to turn lights off in the late evening.

For more tips on holiday electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety Foundation International.

A Local Focus Brings Big Impact

Erica JueFor an energy and environmental policy professional, designing national and international regulations from Washington D.C. or New York City might seem like the ultimate end goal. But to Erica Jue, it was simply a starting point for creating meaningful and tangible change at a local level.

Throughout her early career, Erica worked on large-scale policy at a federal and global level. She was introduced to the energy sector through work with the California Environmental Protection Agency. After that, she honed her technical and policymaking skills at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Center for Clean Air Policy, developing energy forecasts and emissions impact analyses.

Then, in June of this year, Erica decided to join Silicon Valley Power (SVP) as a resource analyst. “My biggest motivation for this role was to move from working at the federal level to the local level. I felt that I could have more of an impact on the area that I live in and see how the work that I do impacts the community,” she said.

At SVP, Erica has found a new avenue for her background in economics and statistics and her creative spirit – she manages our renewable energy portfolio and helps us meet our carbon emission reduction goals. “I like that I am actually implementing those policies now,” said Erica. “Part of that implementation is having an effect not just on Santa Clara, because we do have a cleaner grid, but also nationally because we are setting an example for other regions.”

Her role also involves analyzing potential investments in renewables and the role of new technologies, such as fuel cells and energy storage. “What’s exciting about the industry is that there’s a lot of technological change,” she said. “Not only is the state willing to move forward on green power and innovative technologies, but the industry is too.”

Her refined career focus has accompanied a welcome lifestyle shift. “In my former life, I spent a lot of time in the city,” Erica said. “I love being able to spend more time outdoors now – gardening and hiking in the woods with my fiancé. We have the Sierras, the Redwoods, and the beach all so close by.”

Great news! Electric rates remain flat in 2018

Electricity rates in 2018 will remain flat, thanks to an abundant supply of inexpensive electricity from hydroelectric plants along with recent revenue growth from our business sector. This is in contrast to a series of recent rate increases made necessary by four years of drought that sharply reduced hydroelectric generation. 

The Santa Clara City Council adopted our proposed budget on June 13, 2017. The budget also reflects the ongoing cost of replacing aging infrastructure such as power poles, meeting the rising power transmission costs and replenishing reserves drawn down to buffer our rates during the drought. 

Holding to a zero rate increase is contingent upon legislators in Sacramento defeating a California Senate bill that would negatively impact our rates. SVP and other municipal utilities are working to educate legislators about the benefits of maintaining low rates for customers. 

In addition to the abundance of hydroelectric power, our diverse power resources such as wind, geothermal, solar and the City’s local modern natural gas plant provide managers with cost-effective choices to meet energy demand in the City. Our zero rate increase is in contrast to other nearby electric utilities that are raising rates by as much as 10 to 11 percent.

 

Power to the Public

PPW 2017 GraphicIn Santa Clara, the people have the power. All electricity in the city is provided by our community-owned, not-for-profit entity – Silicon Valley Power (SVP). We are among the few fortunate communities that have retained this setup: Only 14 percent of all electricity customers in the U.S. are served by public power. The public, local-ownership model ensures that the utility and the community’s interests are aligned. Our team here at SVP knows that when we’re all on the same team, there are a lot of benefits.

LOW, STABLE RATES

Silicon Valley Power provides the lowest electric rates of any utility in California serving more than 5,000 customers. We set our rates based on our operating expenses because we are a not-for-profit entity. Our stable, low rates mean residents can save for their families and businesses can count on Santa Clara as great place to grow their operations. In contrast, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) are tied to shareholders whose interests may not match up with those of the communities they serve. The difference that makes? Our community saves an estimated over $100M in electric costs annually.

CUSTOM COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS

As a public power entity, we can provide programs and services tailored to Santa Clara’s unique needs. We have invested in long-term power contracts from reliable, sustainable power sources and in critical infrastructure that will provide benefits for years to come. Programs like our energy-efficiency rebates are designed with Santa Clara residents in mind. Our community initiatives, such as our local scholarships, Neighborhood Solar Program, Tool Lending Library, and sponsorships, move our city forward. Similarly, when our community began to show interest in renewable energy, we started offering Santa Clara Green Power, our award-winning 100 percent green power option. The program launched way back in 2004, long before most utilities in the region provided comparable offerings. Santa Clara Green Power has been ranked in National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Top 10 Utility Green Power Programs for 11 consecutive years, has ranked fourth in the nation for its collective green power use by the EPA, and has offered green power rates significantly lower than those of surrounding communities.

LOCAL JOBS & EMPLOYEES

Operating locally also lets us create stable, rewarding jobs right here in Santa Clara. This means our customers are served by employees that know our city inside and out. So when you speak with an SVP team member on the phone, online, or in the community, you can feel confident that they are not only subject matter experts but Santa Clara experts. Learn more about some of our wonderful employees in our Meet Our Employees blog feature.

At Silicon Valley Power, we know that the local, not-for-profit utility structure we’ve had for more than 120 years is special and worth protecting. Cities around us that don’t have public power are starting to recognize its benefits and mimic parts of it. Some Bay Area cities are participating in Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which procures power for a group of cities. This may better align power purchases with community interest in lowering carbon emissions, but infrastructure, programs, and customer service are still operated by an IOU. Only a community-owned and operated utility like Silicon Valley Power truly puts the power in the hands of the people and provides the full benefits of public power.

Trading Coasts – and Electrons

May_QiuManaging electricity rates and market risk sounds daunting, but to some people it evokes the thrill and pace of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor.

For Yanmei (May) Qiu, a 10-year Silicon Valley Power veteran, supporting energy trading and analyzing rates is all in a day’s work to help her customers get the most affordable rates on the market.

May came to the U.S. from mainland China to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics from University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, she left for the East Coast, earning a master’s in finance from Boston College and working in corporate finance in Boston. Before too long, she returned to the Bay Area, eager to escape East Coast winters and see old friends.

Since 2007, May has been working for SVP in risk control analysis, balancing SVP’s risks and costs to make energy transactions run smoothly. “I help ensure we have the reliable power we need and the credit to back it up,” says May. “We have a 24-hour trading floor, it’s kind of like a stock exchange.”

A few months ago, on top of her risk management position, May stepped in and became the acting division manager for market analysis and pricing. In this new role, she must look at the “whole picture,” as she calls it, to analyze how rates are structured.

Her multifaceted experience and holistic approach to the business has helped her optimize these rate structures. May is proud that she plays a part in offering customers some of the lowest electricity rates in California. While her years of education have prepared her well for her career at Silicon Valley Power, she says, “I learn something new every day.”

When May isn’t learning new skills or showing off her finance chops, she spends quality time with her husband and two daughters, ages three and seven.

A Tradition of Community Support

DSC01189For the past twelve years, the SVP Scholarship Program has recognized exceptional students who live or go to school in Santa Clara and are pursuing promising careers in energy services, electric utilities, and other fields associated with the power industry.

Supporting local students benefits our community and helps foster an interest in the energy and utilities sectors in the next generation. We are thrilled to see the passion for energy shown by this year’s scholarship recipients and their inspired visions for making an impact on the evolving energy sector. Investing in their future will continue to attract more talented leaders to the utilities workforce – and maybe even to Silicon Valley Power!

Each scholarship winner this year received $5,000 to support their path to becoming a scientist, engineer, technician, electric utility field worker, or policymaker.

The 2017 winners are:

Christine Yee, chemistry student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Yee, a Wilcox High School graduate, believes that development of more effective biofuels to meet future energy needs is an answer to global warming. She hopes to use her knowledge of chemistry to popularize the use of biofuels.

Tiffany Madruga, engineering student at Harvey Mudd College. In high school, Madruga, a Santa Clara resident, was a member of the robotics team where she mentored students during summer science camp. Her experiences at camp fostered her interest in engineering and sparked a new curiosity about solar power.

Tamara Pantic, international relations and political science student at the University of California, Berkeley. She aims to make an impact through initiatives that increase funding for clean energy research and lower the costs of renewable energy.

We are proud to invest in these three outstanding students and the energy leaders of the future. For more than 120 years, Silicon Valley Power has been an integral part of the Santa Clara community and we are excited to continue our tradition of supporting the community by helping local students enter this important field.

Starting Sept. 15, 2017, SVP will begin accepting applications for the 2018-2019 school year. Those interested in applying for a SVP scholarship or grant should complete and return the appropriate application by Dec. 15, 2017.

Your local power grid – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

No one likes an unexpected surprise like a car breakdown or a heater that suddenly stops working. That’s why most of us do preventative maintenance on our cars and home. It’s the same logic and due diligence that we apply when we perform inspections on our equipment and repair or replace items like power poles when needed.

Many of our power poles and cross arms have held up for more than 40 years, but it’s time to be sure they remain up to the job of reliably carrying electricity to our customers. We’ve contracted with Osmose Utilities Services to perform inspections on all of our power poles over the next five years to improve reliability and perform preventative maintenance.

Customers affected by this important effort are being notified by letter several weeks prior to work in their area. In some cases Osmose will need to access backyards to perform the inspection. We know privacy is very important, so as a courtesy Osmose will first knock on the door to let you know they need to enter your property. If no one answers the door, Osmose will enter the backyard and perform the power pole inspection. If the gate is locked and inspectors cannot access the power pole, they’ll leave a door hanger asking for you to contact SVP with a time to complete the inspection.

Working hours are 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday through Friday and each inspection can take 20-40 minutes. Residents may also see SVP crews in neighborhoods for Saturday appointments. Osmose inspectors will have identification indicating they are a contractor for the City of Santa Clara. It’s always a good idea to ask to see the ID, or call us if you are unsure.

We‘re doing everything possible to minimize the impact of this critical maintenance work and we apologize in advance for any inconvenience this might cause. Customers with questions or concerns are welcome to contact us at (408) 244-7283.

This work increases the reliability of your power. As with a car or a home, we feel that it is wise to inspect, maintain and/or repair equipment rather than wait until there’s a problem that could have been prevented.