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.

Don’t Get Fooled – Our Green Power is Still the Cheapest!

You may start hearing about a new kind of electric company in the area that will claim their green power is a great deal for residents. What these “Community Choice” companies don’t say is that our 100 percent green and carbon-free program, Santa Clara Green Power, remains the lowest-cost plan in the South Bay Area. Period.

Our community is very proud that we pioneered the adoption of clean, renewable and affordable energy decades ago, and our award-winning green power program is now 13 years old. Last year, Santa Clara Green Power earned a position on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s national top 10 listing that benchmarks green power programs.

We love new ideas that promote clean energy, but we want our customers to know that these new community choice power companies 1) do not offer electricity service in the City of Santa Clara, and 2) have rates that are higher than SVP’s for a comparable electricity product.

Take a look at the table below showing the residential green power prices proposed by one of the new companies, Silicon Valley Clean Energy compared to SVP rates, which average about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for 100 percent Santa Clara Green Power.

While these new companies are giving their customers more options in the region for buying cleaner energy, which is a good thing, we are proud to be an industry leader by offering 100 percent green power at much lower rates.

CCA Rate Comparison

What do a butterfly, cattle and a natural gas power plant have in common?

Checkerspot Butterfly with SVP LogoYou may be surprised at an unusual connection between our Donald Von Raesfeld power plant and the endangered bay checkerspot butterfly. The butterfly once lived in many areas around the San Francisco Bay from Contra Costa County to Hollister, but is now primarily found only in the foothills of southern Santa Clara County. How this colorful butterfly became threatened is a tale of air pollution and invasive plant species. How it is being saved is a story that intertwines native grassland preservation with cattle grazing.

Here’s how it works.

The bay checkerspot requires certain native grasslands that grow only in nutrient-poor serpentine soil in the area. Unfortunately, the nitrogen oxide from vehicle emissions on nearby highways enriches the soil, allowing invasive plants to grow and choke out the native plants needed by the butterfly for food and shelter.

Stanford University researchers identified the resulting drastic decline of the butterfly in the 1960s, leading to the bay checkerspot being federally designated as threatened in 1987. Researchers also found that cattle grazing improved the butterfly habitat, as cattle preferred to eat the non-native invasive plants and did not like the native plants that are home to the checkerspot.

Here’s where our DVR power plant enters the narrative.

While the modern power plant does not emit anywhere near the volume of nitrogen generated by traffic, the federal government still required us to offset DVR’s emissions with a Habitat Conservation Plan. Our staff saw this as an opportunity and we purchased 40 acres of butterfly habitat east of Highway 101 and donated it to the Silicon Valley Land Conservancy for permanent protection. Of course, cattle are welcomed on the land to dine to their hearts’ content on the invasive plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a wealth of information on their website about the checkerspot butterfly and its prospects for survival. We’re happy to be a part of the efforts to protect this South Bay Area butterfly.

By the way, we recently published a blog post about the many community benefits associated with DVR. We can now add the bay checkerspot butterfly as one of the benefactors of our locally owned and operated electricity generating facility.

Our Community Benefits From Having a Local Power Plant

DVR Night Photo with LogoBeing able to generate electricity for a local power plant has advantages for the community we serve. We’ve been fortunate in the City of Santa Clara to have the Donald Von Raesfeld (DVR) modern natural gas facility operating since 2005, and the investment has paid off by providing reliable locally sourced power and adding value for customers by helping keep rates low.

Utilizing power from DVR:

  • Avoids the use of expensive transmission lines to import electricity, a cost that has risen 500 percent in the last 10 years
  • Reduces load on external transmission lines to protect against “brown-outs” or shortages in the regional power supply
  • Supports 18 skilled jobs in our City.

Reliability benefits are most prominent during heat waves when DVR operates near its peak capacity and reduces the dependence on power coming from outside the City.

DVR generates up to 147 megawatts (MW) of power with a modern technique that boost efficiencies and limits emissions. In fact, nitrous oxide measurements show that the exhaust from DVR is actually cleaner than the air it takes in during certain parts of the day.

Our plant has generated over 7 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity since 2005. On average, DVR generates enough electricity to power over 100,000 homes each year The investment in DVR also pays off when excess power from the plant is sold to other utilities. While local customers have priority for DVR’s energy, if SVP-owned sources are generating more than enough power from cheaper or greener resources to meet local demand, power from DVR can be sold on the wholesale market.

DVR is just one of numerous resources that we utilize for our power mix, and it gives us one more option when deciding the best and most economical source of electricity for our customers.

“Height” of a career can have two very different meanings!

Phil Waterhouse wife Outlet June 2017Peering down from 90-feet up on a steel tower can be dizzying enough for most people. But staring down that tower and then into another 1,200-foot drop into a canyon excavated for a new hydroelectric dam can be memorable, if not downright scary.

That’s how our Senior Electric Meter Technician Phil Waterhouse described the “height” of a long career in the electric utility industry. At the time, about 30 years ago, he was placing microwave repeaters for the Pathfinder Dam in Wyoming.

“I remember looking around at the horizon, and the dam was the only sign of civilization that I could see,” he said.

Phil enjoyed being away from civilization as a youngster in Indiana, where he grew up next to an open space that was ripe for adventure. When he wasn’t “exploring the wilds of Indiana” as he described it, he tinkered with things, a pastime he still enjoys.

“Some people take apart clocks. I take apart computers and put them back together again. Why buy something fancy when I can cobble something together that does the job?”

As an adult he has extended his hobbies to scuba diving.

“During the 1990s I learned scuba under the YMCA program, earning Basic Diver, Advanced, Night, Cave, Wreck, Ice, Lifesaving and Advanced Lifesaving certificates.”

Fast forward to today, where Phil is marking his 15th year with us. He and his team are currently coordinating the distribution of more than 54,000 advanced meters to our business and residential customers in the City of Santa Clara, where he started as a lineman.

“Eventually we’re going to see some pretty exciting things for our customers with the new technology,” Phil said. “One day, a mobile app will show a customer the increase in their power consumption when they turn on a machine.”

Phil has witnessed the transition of the utility business as an industry professional for four decades.

“I have 41 years as an A-member Journeyman Lineman in the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers),” he said. “I’ve traveled the country and served as foreman on jobs that included most aspects of the electric utility industry, including a couple of general foreman stints on 69-kilovolt (69,000 volts) projects.”

Love of being under water certainly is a contrast to working high in the air over a gaping canyon. In either extreme, it seems Phil has been able to take a deep breath and enjoy his surroundings, wherever he is.

SVP Recognized for Superior Leadership

Over 120 years ago, our City established its municipal electric utility in order to provide DSC_0983.JPGstreet lighting in the growing city. Today, our commitment to Santa Clara includes not only affordable and reliable power, but also numerous innovative programs, an emphasis on community engagement and participation in the local and regional battle against climate change.

These attributes earned us an award from the Northwest Public Power Association (NWPPA). The Paul J. Raver Award, given for demonstrating superior leadership in the betterment of cities, states or regions, was presented to us on May 11, 2017 at the NWPPA Annual Meeting in Sunriver, OR.

This prestigious honor belongs to every one of our SVP employees. From our power resources and control room staff, to our line workers and engineers, and to our customer service representatives and community program managers, there is not one person here who did not contribute to winning this award.

According to NWPPA’s news release, “Silicon Valley Power has been committed to providing the community with highly reliable power at low rates and has worked hard to diversify its resources and continually invest in renewable energy to further reduce its carbon footprint.”

The association further cited SVP’s key role in forming the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) in 1968, which organized similar municipal electric utilities in the state to allow them to buy electricity on the wholesale market. NCPA members also jointly developed cost-effective power generation resources for its members, resulting in lower rates than other utilities.

SVP still has the lowest system average rates in California among utilities with more than 5,000 customers, while remaining committed to doing so with a power mix that exceeds California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

SVP has had a lifetime of serving our community. Our policies, philosophy and programs are all geared to provide value to Santa Clara. And 120 years later, we still take care of the street lights.

Bike to work for a day, a week, a month!

Riding a bike to work can be great fun, and it’s good for you! The month of May is Bike to Work Month, highlighted by Bike to Work Day on Thursday, May 11, and we’ll be hosting our energizer station for Bike to Work Day again this year. Plan your route, then stop by and say hi if you’re riding down El Camino Real near the Caltrain station, across from Santa Clara University. Under the Silicon Valley Power tent, we’ll have snacks, a tote bag, goodies, and lots of encouragement for you.

Biking isn’t only good for the environment, but also a great way to get some fresh air, exercise, and ditch the commute traffic! The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition points out that almost 40 percent of commuters in the Bay Area live within five miles of work, a distance perfectly possible even for inexperienced bicyclists. Since we all want to reduce our carbon footprint, it’s interesting to know that if these commuters rode bikes instead of driving to work, it would take more than 60,000 vehicles off the road, reducing tailpipe emissions by more than 150,000 pounds.

If you have a longer commute, mix in some public transit. VTA buses and Caltrain can accommodate bikes (and their riders) and some stations have bike lockers too.

Head to Bike Silicon Valley for information and resources – and remember that helmet and sunscreen!

Keep Your Home Safe With These Electrical Safety Tips

May is National Electrical Safety Month, and it’s a great time to take a look around your home to eliminate any potential hazards to you, our family or your home from faulty or overloaded electrical outlets and devices. A few simple precautions can mean a world of difference. For instance:

  • Smoke marks on outlet covers or a burning odor are the warning signs of potential trouble.
  • Use a good surge protector to minimize risk. It will trip and cut power to a circuit if it becomes overloaded.
  • Never staple or use nails or tacks to attach electrical cords to a wall or baseboards.
  • Locate your circuit breaker and switch the power off before starting an electrical job.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has more tips for making your home safe, and you can watch a fun video we made to remind you about home safety and electricity.

Helping 3,000 small businesses lower their electric bills

SVP - CMUA RECS Award 2017Helping Santa Clara businesses improve their bottom line can be a satisfying experience for a municipal utility like ours. A healthy local economy benefits everyone in the community, and we are proud that we just won the Best Energy Program for a Large Municipal Electric Utility award from the California Municipal Utility Association (CMUA), which consists of 59 electric and water utilities.

The honor is for a program called the Small Business Snapshot Audit and Direct Install Program, which saved our small businesses about $300,000 in the fiscal year 2016-17. The name says exactly what we did: determine what energy efficiency upgrades or improvements could be made at over 3,000 Santa Clara business customer locations, and have a third-party contractor, Efficiency Services Group, handle the logistics and installation at no charge to our customers.

The program gave us the chance to offer a valuable service to those businesses that can benefit the most, plus it had a very positive economic impact in our City as customers saved up to several hundred dollars a month in electricity costs. Most of the improvements involved lighting upgrades, which give customers even more savings on an ongoing basis, since modern energy-efficient lights and fixtures require less maintenance and last longer than older technology.

The first-year energy savings alone added up to almost 2 million kilowatt-hours, which translates to preventing about 750,000 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere from power plants. We are thrilled to have organized such a successful program. We appreciate the recognition from the CMUA and continue to look for new opportunities to serve our customers and community.

Marriott Scores Big Energy Savings With Guestroom HVAC Upgrade

Some hotels are taking a big step forward in making sure rooms are comfortable when you arrive and during your stay by installing automated control systems that adapt to occupancy and respond with the appropriate level of heating or cooling. Hotel staff can also remotely prepare a room for an arriving guest, and shut down systems when the room becomes vacant. Sensors can indicate if a room is occupied or empty, which can be especially valuable when it allows the hotel to turn off the energy-hungry heat or air conditioning when guests are out.

The Santa Clara Marriott Hotel is one property that has embraced the new technology, retrofitting the pre-existing air conditioning equipment in rooms to disable the factory built-in controls so that the units can be controlled through the Wi-Fi and sensor enabled thermostats. Guests can still personally choose their level of comfort using in-room thermostats.

The project was completed in August 2016 and meets a Marriott policy to implement one signature environmental improvement a year at each of its hotels. Comfort is just one of the benefits. Dave Mason, the director of engineering for the Marriott, says upgrading 759 guest room thermostat controls will save the property 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The energy efficiency upgrade also will also prevent 55 metric tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere annually.

dave_mason_Marriott Hotels

“I was particularly interested in this project because it improves the overall guest experience and saves valuable resources,” Dave Mason said, adding that those savings plus the rebate from Silicon Valley Power will allow the hotel to recoup the $346,000 project cost in less than seven years. The energy efficiency upgrade also will also prevent 55 metric tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere annually.

“I would definitely use the word ‘partnership’ to describe our work with SVP,” said Mason. “It only took about eight weeks to complete the project once we had a green light.”

We love working with customers like Dave Mason and the Santa Clara Marriott to improve energy efficiency at their facilities, and the project is even more rewarding when it benefits their guests with improved comfort!