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.

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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.

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.

Race, Run and Remote Chopper Spell Fun for Utility Engineer

A perfect weekend in the life of Billy Quach might be building and flying a remote control img_7563helicopter, doing a 10 kilometer trail run, and topping it off with a race against the clock on an auto-cross short course. It’s pretty clear that our Senior Electrical Utility Engineer has no problems keeping busy with his various hobbies and family in his off hours.

While on the job, Billy works with business customers to assure their electrical systems meet SVP standards. Getting to his current position was a logical progression after finishing his degree in Electrical Engineering from Santa Clara University in 2003. He earned separate masters degrees in Business Administration and Science Engineering in 2009 from San Jose State University and was a power engineering consultant at a private firm before joining SVP in 2014.

“I definitely wanted to be in a utility. I was very interested in working where I could directly impact customers, and evaluating customer-owned generating facilities is very important,” Quach said. “If a customer loses their power for any reason, that impacts the bottom line of their business.”

The Silver Creek High School (San Jose) alum also helps maintain and enhance our Power Quality Monitoring Systems. “Much of the work we do here has to do with reliability,” he said, adding that his job offers “a great work/life balance. The hours are predictable and there’s flexibility for family time if needed. I love spending time with my wife and two daughters.”

That balancing act juggles his engineering assignments with his hobbies and his family. Because another one of his many passions is photography, all the fun he refers to is probably very well documented.

Don’t Get Left in the Dark – Be Ready for Winter Power Outages

Mother Nature has a way of dealing us surprises in winter, and among the aces up her flashlight_blogsleeve are weather-related power outages. Although we aggressively trim tree limbs near power lines and work to maintain reliability throughout the City, outages do occur. Here are some tips on how to be prepared for a power outage and avoid serious inconvenience.

  • Check your emergency preparedness kit for flashlights and fresh batteries
  • Have ice packs or plastic containers of water in your freezer to place in your refrigerator or a cooler to help keep food cold during an extended outage
  • Keep canned food on hand and have a manual can opener available
  • Keep some cash handy to buy ice or other necessities in case stores in an outage area are unable to process credit or electronic transactions
  • Have a battery-operated radio
  • Have a backup charging method for your phone or other mobile device such as an inexpensive vehicle USB adapter, battery power pack or solar power pack
  • Do not run your vehicle in a garage or enclosed space, or close to your home, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, know where the manual release lever is located and test it before there is an outage
  • Surge protectors on your electronic equipment can guard against damage if a surge occurs when power is restored

Power outages are a fact of life during winter weather and we all should be prepared to safely cope with them. Fortunately, cell phones and other mobile devices that work without household power can give you access to websites and Twitter for information during a power outage or weather emergency.

More information on emergency preparedness and what to do during a power outage is available at www.ready.gov/power-outages and on our website. Updates during a widespread power outage are available by visiting us on Twitter or via our website.

Going Face-to-Face With 800-Pound Sea Lions

While just about any 800-pound wild animal is pretty interesting, getting into an enclosed Arielle - Outlet Photopen with one is bound to get your attention. But not only did Arielle Romero share space with sea lions at the Moss Landing Marine Labs near Santa Cruz, she actually trained the agile beasts in behavior that helped them.

Arielle’s path to her position as an SVP Key Customer Representative was hardly ordinary. The Livermore High School graduate studied political science with an emphasis on energy and environment at U.C. Santa Cruz while also fulfilling a love of marine mammals with her work at Moss Landing.

“Often I was not only responsible for my life but also for another person’s life when supervising someone doing a training session in an enclosure with a 700- or 800-pound animal,” says Arielle, who trained co-workers in the care and training of the sea mammals.

“The sea lions couldn’t be released into the wild so we did some rehabilitation and used them to help us research their marine environment for the university,” Arielle says. “We also had educational programs teaching kids who came to our facility the importance of marine conservation, and the sea lions really got their attention.”

“We trained the animals in medical behaviors such as having them lay down so we’d be able to examine them. It’s beneficial to be able to give commands like ‘let me see your flipper’, ‘let me see your back flipper’, ‘open your mouth’. Unless you train a sea lion to do that you’d have to manually force them, and you can imagine how that would turn out with a wild animal.”

Her work at Moss Landing and U.C. Santa Cruz studies led Arielle to the conclusion that the biggest threat to sea life and the environment in general was climate change. “It wasn’t difficult to see that energy use based on fossil fuels was a negative factor, while renewable energy and energy efficiency are helpful.”

Pursuing a career in the energy industry, Arielle worked for two years with us as an energy conservation intern, then was hired by the local Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee to help electrical apprentices successfully complete training. Taking the Key Customer Representative position with us this year was a natural next step.

“Our customers are ahead of the curve when it comes to energy efficiency and respect for the environment,” she says. “Working with them is very rewarding.”

High Electric Bills This Winter?

This is the time of year when we receive the most calls from customers concerned about high electric bills.  Temperatures have been colder; people were home for the holidays; and a lot of cooking, baking and entertaining occurred. When the bill arrives a month later, you may not associate these things with the higher energy use.

Herb Marshall Enery Audit
Herb Marshall

According to Herb Marshall, our Energy Conservation Coordinator who performs most of the in-home energy audits, he finds that portable space heaters and electric baseboard heat are the biggest culprit for higher bills in the winter. That’s why we developed a Space Heater Guide to help customers select the best space heater option for their needs.  Many customers don’t realize that space heaters cost about $0.15/hour to operate, but that can easily add up to an additional $30-$40 per month in cold weather!

Year round, we offer customers a free in-home energy audit to help identify ways to save energy and lower your electric bills, but this service is especially popular this time of year. We offer a number of other resources to help you save money and energy, as well as improve comfort in your home.  Check out our Energy Saving Tips and download one of our guides today!

Standing Up for Customers Yields Standout Award

It was great to be ranked at a record high level for customer satisfaction in a customer survey earlier this summer. The independent research firm that does these surveys, RKS Research of New NN7_3461-01York, also asks customers what they appreciate or want to see from their utility. Along with low cost and reliability, our customers always ask that we keep communications high on our list of priorities.

So we were delighted when an industry award for outstanding customer communications was given yesterday to our top customer services executive, Larry Owens.  The Northwest Public Power Association gave Larry its lifetime achievement award to recognize his work here for the past 20 years. The award honors remarkable work in the areas of marketing and communication and lifetime commitment to the public power industry.

Larry has driven us to develop strategies that have won widespread community support for the City’s electric utility. He makes every effort to deliver what our customers need or want to know in a timely and effective manner. The results are remarkable. Customer satisfaction and solid trust in SVP have been repeatedly and dramatically validated in independent surveys.

All of us value communications with our customers. Not only do we try to let you know what’s happening with your utility, but we welcome your feedback too. If you have a suggestion or a question, let us know at info@siliconvalleypower.com.

You Spoke, We Listened!

We pride ourselves at staying in touch with our residential and commercial customers and making sure that they know what’s going on, whether it’s tips for saving energy or information about new power resources. And we like to be responsive to customers’ needs. So we occasionally have an independent research company conduct customer surveys to find out how we’re doing with our customers.

One of those surveys this summer showed we set a record for high satisfaction ratings among our residential customers compared to other utilities in California.

Among other questions, customers were asked about their overall satisfaction, their opinion about our rates and whether or not they trusted us to act in customers’ best interests.

The latest results found:

  • Overall, 82 percent of customers surveyed said they were very satisfied with us, a full 15 points above the statewide utility average.
  • Customers are pleased with rates, giving us an average of 7.8 on 0-10 scale, compared with 6.7 statewide.
  • The value of electricity service for the price paid rated 8.2, a full 1.0 above the statewide average.
  • Trust in us rated an 8.4 compared to average ratings between 6.9 and 7.1 statewide for other utilities.
  • 89 percent of customers consider their relationship with us to be “excellent” or “pretty good.”

Our customers also gave us some very constructive feedback, such as a need for us to enhance our online customer service process and improve e-billing services.

We’re working on it! We’re working to update the current version of our e-billing service with a new release that fixes operational bugs and includes usability enhancements, while at the same time, searching the market for a better product.

RKS Results

Legend: Muni – other California public power utilities; IOU – California Investor Owned Utilities