The sun shines on low income customers in Santa Clara

We are excited to kick off our new Low Income Solar Grant Program, which providesSolar Panels Close Up income-qualified homeowners with a free solar photovoltaic (PV) system! This program is intended to help reduce overall utility costs for those customers who have an ongoing financial need. It also provides 100% renewable energy to their home, which contributes to the City of Santa Clara’s Climate Action Plan goals. The program will also help support the local solar contractors who have had their businesses impacted by the current health crisis.

Through this grant program, we will provide up to $10,000 per home to cover the cost of the solar system and permit application fees, with a maximum payment of $3.30 per watt, up to 3 kilowatts (CEC-AC). The program is designed to cover 100% of the cost of the PV system based on average system costs in our area. A 3 kilowatt system can cover 100% of the electricity consumed by the average Santa Clara customer over the course of the year.

All applicants will meet with a solar specialist on our staff to learn more about owning a solar system, as well as what changes they can expect on their utility bill under the Net Metering Program. Net Metering includes an annual “true-up” of energy produced versus energy consumed and the monthly bill is handled differently from other electric bills, as payment is only required annually. The Net Metering Program allows customers to “bank” power when they produce more than they consume and use it as a credit in months where they consume more than they produce.

As a part of the program, we will also help customers evaluate multiple bids to ensure they meet the program requirements before signing a contract. The grant is paid directly to the contractor or installer so customers do not have to spend any money out of pocket. Under this program, we anticipate installing at least 30 solar systems for low income homeowners in Santa Clara this year.

In order to be eligible for the grant, homeowners must be a current Financial Rate Assistance Program participant for over one year. Income eligibility documentation is required. Complete program requirements can be found on the Low Income Solar Grant Reservation Form.

A routine inspection is anything but routine

While doing a routine inspection of a manhole to locate empty conduits for a construction project, our crews found something unexpected. A skunk was trapped inside the manhole. It appears that it accessed the manhole by crawling into an empty conduit and following it to the manhole, but then did not know how to get back out. Luckily for the skunk, our crews came along and were able to rescue it. With the help of Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority (SVACA), they lowered a cage into the manhole and enticed the hungry skunk into the cage with a can of cat food. Once secure in the cage, the skunk was lifted out of the manhole and SVACA staff released the skunk nearby. We hope it learned its lesson and won’t be exploring any more empty conduits.

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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!

Brighten Up the Holidays With Cool Energy Savings!

Bright decorations, great food and good company make the winter holidays festive and special. Keeping your energy costs under control with just a little bit of effort can bring youholiday-tree-with-leds-with-logo even more holiday cheer.

ENERGY STAR® rated LED light strings offer a wide variety of lighting options while using 70 percent less electricity than the old incandescent light bulbs. New bulbs are brighter, safer and last 10 times longer than the old lights. Plus they come in many different colors, including different shades of white. Check out our short video on holiday LED lights or visit our website for more holiday LED light info, as well as other tips on how to save energy all year long.

There are also some good tips on energy efficiency from the California Energy Commission (CEC) Consumer Energy Center, including how you can cut back energy waste in the kitchen during the hectic holidays. For instance:

  • Opening the oven door for a peek at what’s cooking lowers the oven temperature by as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cook several items at the same time, leaving space around each casserole or pie plate to allow heat to be distributed evenly.
  • Use convection settings if available to distribute heat evenly and shorten cooking times.
  • Match the size of your stovetop burner to the size of the pan you’re using. Up to 40 percent of the heat is wasted if you put a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner.
  • Consider other ways to cook some holiday dishes, such as the microwave oven, a slow cooker or an electric skillet, all of which can be more energy-efficient than your oven or stovetop for cooking certain foods.
  • Opening the refrigerator door and leaving it open for a minute while you remove several items is more energy efficient than opening and closing it several times.

These useful tips can help you light up your house and deck the halls for your holiday festivities while saving you money on your electric bill.

A Great Investment: Scholarships and Grants for Aspiring Santa Clara Students

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2016 recipient Miles Wolf

We all know the good feeling that a wise investment gives us, especially when it’s for a worthy cause that benefits the community. That’s how we feel about our SVP Scholarship Program, which awards college scholarships and trade school tuition grants to some of the most promising students in Santa Clara who aspire to be professionals in a field associated with the electric utility industry.

We’re accepting applications until December 15, 2016 from qualified students living or going to school in Santa Clara who will be attending college or a trade school in the 2017-2018 school year.

College scholarships of $5,000 and technical school grants of $2,000 are available. Winners, who will be announced in May 2017, have the chance to join previous SVP Scholarship Award program awardees like these:

  • Miles Wolf is a 2016 Wilcox High School graduate attending the University of California-Santa Barbara to pursue degrees in electrical engineering and environmental science with help from a $5,000 SVP scholarship.
  • Mission College student and 2016 scholarship winner Andres Cuenca is studying civil engineering, which plays a critical role in the construction of electric generation facilities.
  • Christopher Blancett received a $2,000 Technical Grant in 2013 to support his studies at the Institute of Business and Technology (IBT) related to solar power as he prepared for a career in the electrical trade.
  • Mark Wagner graduated from Santa Clara University (SCU) and worked toward a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with help from a 2009 grant from SVP. He researched solar powered refrigeration for use in remote areas.
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2009 Recipient Mark Wagner

Applicants planning to study energy services, electric utilities, fields associated with electricity or the power industry in general may download the 2016-2017 application or get more information by calling 408.615.6604. Completed application packets must arrive at our City Hall offices by 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 15, 2016.

We certainly look forward to investing again in some of our community’s brightest academic stars!

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.

Fiber Optics is the 100-Mile Communications Backbone of Santa Clara

Just as most of us don’t think twice about where power comes from when we flip a switch youdoodle-2016-10-31t11-23-51z_resizedand the light comes on, rarely do we consider how all that information arrives on our computer screen when we search the Internet. But somewhere in that millisecond journey from a database to your screen, the information passed through hundreds if not thousands of miles of fiber optic cable.

Fiber is the backbone of the Internet as well as critical for numerous companies in our city that rely on high-speed and reliable communications conduits. We entered into the fiber business almost by accident. Many years ago, we wanted the fastest, most reliable and best modern method for sending and receiving data to and from our electric substations, control room and throughout our local grid system.

The answer was a fiber optics network that helped us achieve higher power reliability. In 1995, our leaders came up with the idea of laying down far more fiber capacity than we needed immediately, figuring that future demand from customers as well as our utility would be well served by that extra capacity. That’s how we now have over 100 miles of fiber optic cable in our city, and that number continues to grow.

Our business customers jumped on the opportunity to use an already-established fiber infrastructure to enhance their communications abilities and make those capabilities available to their own customers. The SVP Fiber Enterprise was born 16 years ago and continues to provide data centers and corporations with a most modern, reliable and scalable dark fiber network today. When fiber optic cable is first built and made available for use, it’s called dark fiber. Once electronic equipment is added to each end, the fiber lights up and transmits data via virtually error-free single mode fiber optic cable capable of up to 2 terabits of data per second. That’s 100,000 times faster than today’s consumer speeds at home.

We continually monitor its operation, and a professional fiber team offers technical expertise, engineering design, construction, splicing, and upgrade assistance, as well as on-going tech support and customer service. Santa Clara’s dark fiber system plant has a stellar reputation for reliability and customer service.

That makes sense. After all, those are a couple of the key attributes we pride ourselves on here.

Your Local Utility Keeps Your Best Interests in Mind

Having your own local public power company certainly has its advantages. Being the 2015_svp_logo_with_seal_and_tagline_colormunicipal electric utility that only serves the City of Santa Clara makes us operate like a well-run neighborhood family-owned business. We know a lot about what our neighbors expect from their local utility.

For instance, all of us appreciate the benefits of the lowest electricity rates in the state, made possible in part by our constant work to find the best prices when purchasing power for the City. In fact, compared to what electric utility customers paid in neighboring cities, our residential and business customers spent about $100 million less in electric utility bills last year. That’s $100 million that stays in your pockets and in our community.

As a public power utility serving just our City, with our executive offices and service fleet located locally, we can focus on our citywide service area. The commitment to providing personalized service means very high customer satisfaction, according to surveys of our customers by an independent pollster.

Our community seems to be proud of our sponsorships of school and local activities. We provide support to fun events like the Santa Clara Art and Wine Festival and fireworks shows, and we take pride in establishing Santa Clara milestones like the biggest electric vehicle charging center in the area. And, as we modernized our metering technology, we were able to create free outdoor Wi-Fi access throughout most of the city using the metering system’s wireless communication capacity.

The American Public Power Association (APPA), which serves more than 2,000 locally owned utilities like SVP serving over 47 million customers in the U.S., points out additional benefits of public power, such as the boost to a city’s economic development and how the utility is governed by local elected officials who act in the best interests of the community. Our neighborhoods and our business community have a voice about their power. As your local municipal public power utility, we listen.

Celebrating Our 120th Birthday

You might say that 1896 was a great year for a number of reasons. The electric stove was Yard Staff - 100 Year Anniversarypatented in June, just before the City of Santa Clara allocated $3,500 to start its electric department, which in time became Silicon Valley Power (SVP). By October 1896 the utility was powering 46 streetlights, a development possibly overshadowed by Harvey Hubbell’s patent on a new light bulb with a pull chain. Other SVP milestones include:

  • 1903: We begin providing electricity to customers
  • 1980: First local electric power plant built
  • 1985: Wind power joins our power portfolio
  • 1988: We add geothermal power to our power mix
  • 1998: “Silicon Valley Power” adopted as our official name
  • 2013: We introduce free citywide outdoor pubic Wi-Fi access
  • 2015: We deliver power that is over 40 percent carbon-free while maintaining the lowest rates of any electric utility in California

Today we serve 53,000 residents and businesses, including some of the world’s most prestigious high technology companies, with power that is nationally known to be very reliable. Our community appreciates our efforts to be as carbon-free as possible (see our Resources Map), and many customers opt to use 100 percent clean, green power by enrolling in the Santa Clara Green Power program. Surveys show that our customers rate us highly for customer service and the lowest rates in the state. We really enjoy that trust from our community, and it inspires us to be even better as we head into our 121st year.

We’ve Got the Largest Public EV Charging Center in CA…for Now!

Panorama of EVsWhy would anyone want to set a record, only to turn around and say they can’t wait until that record is broken?

Well, that’s what we’re saying here ever since we opened the largest public electric vehicle charging center in the state. On April 20, 2016 the Santa Clara Electric Vehicle Charging Center came on line at Santa Clara’s Tasman Parking Garage located near Levi’s Stadium, the Santa Clara Convention Center and the Great America theme park. With 49 charging spots, it’ll serve EV drivers in that destination-rich environment. And a California Energy Commission grant paid for just about all of it.

But what’s coming up is even more exciting! Our charging center surpassed the previous record holder, nine chargers at a supermarket on Mowry Ave. in Fremont, which set that record in December 2015. We won’t be surprised if the growing number of charging locations includes one with 50 or more chargers in the very near future. Private companies are already on the bandwagon – reports say the new Apple campus in Cupertino will feature numerous EV chargers for employees.

A leading industry publication, Smart Grid News, echoed remarks made by Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor when it called the Santa Clara Center a “climate change milestone” with its one Fast DC charger and 48 Level 2 chargers. Plugincars.com says a Fast DC charger can “fill up” an EV in as little as 30 minutes while the Level 2 power pushers take more time.

The cost of driving an EV in Santa Clara can be around $0.04 a mile, based on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimate. Since EV battery capacities and range vary considerably, the DOE has a Vehicle Cost Calculator to better estimate your overall expenses.

We collaborated with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Joint Venture Silicon Valley, ChargePoint and MJR Electric to make the charging center a reality. It may be the largest in the region for now, but we will be cheering for more and even larger EV charging centers for the growing number of EV drivers.