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.

 

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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.

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.

The Workings of Wind Power

wind turbine with logoHow in the world do those windmills we see on the hills around the Bay Area generate and deliver electricity?

That’s a common question posed to us, so let’s take a minute to explain the inner workings of a wind turbine that’s capable of producing up to 1.8 megawatts of power when the wind is blowing. That’s enough to power 500 homes. Take a look at the graphic animation from the U.S. Department of energy that shows the different working parts. (Be sure to click through the slide show to see all of the different working parts described below.)

First of all, there are the blades. Most turbines have two or three blades that are attached to the rotor, or hub. That connects to the main shaft, which spins to power a generator. The electricity from that turbine is fed into the grid for widespread distribution.

You can see from the graphic that there are more components, especially as turbines get larger. Turbines are designed to spin facing either upwind or downwind. The one pictured in the animation is an upwind type, facing the wind with the aid of a yaw drive that keeps it headed into the wind. Downwind turbines are naturally spun by the wind to face away from the wind and do not require the yaw drive.

Most modern turbines have blades connected to a pitch system much like that of a propeller-driven airplane. The blades can be turned, or pitched, to control how much wind they utilize to spin the windmill or to minimize the impact of wind when the turbine needs to be turned off, such as when winds exceed 55 miles-per-hour. A brake may complete the stopping process.

Sometimes you’ll see some or all the turbines on a wind farm stopped even when the wind is blowing. Electric utility customers are probably getting all the power they need from other sources. Since electricity is an on-demand source of energy, there is no place for the wind power to go. In the future when power storage battery technology has advanced to the point where saving excess energy is feasible, we may see this change.

Just Say “NO” to Coal Power – SVP Going Coal-Free and Dropping Carbon Footprint

There’s little doubt that using coal to generate power is a losing proposition for the environment. Carbon emissions from coal-fired plants have been scientifically proven as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warning. So it’s a huge move for us to extricate ourselves from a contract that brought coal-generated electricity to Santa Clara.

After December 31, 2017, we will no longer import power from the San Juan Power Plant in New Mexico.

When SVP and two other public OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApower utilities entered into the San Juan agreement in 1983, there were few energy options available to utilities that had a responsibility to provide reliable power to their communities. By 2011, however, we realized that we could serve Santa Clara customers at a drastically reduced carbon emission level.

For the past four years, we have negotiated with the San Juan coal plant in the effort to cleanly exit the agreement without leaving huge legal bills or lawsuits for the City of Santa Clara to battle. The delicate negotiations required us to keep quiet about our efforts.

We have been committed to eliminating coal as a source of electricity for our customers and turned toward a combination of new renewable resources and the ultramodern Lodi Energy Center to replace the 51 megawatts of power from San Juan. This lets us be coal-free two years earlier than the 2020 deadline called for in the City of Santa Clara’s Climate Action Plan, effectively reducing the carbon footprint of our power by over 50 percent.

We hope our community joins us in celebrating the exit from coal, and we expect to remain well ahead of state or federally mandated renewable energy requirements for the foreseeable future while keeping electricity rates among the lowest in the state.

Read the full press release on our website.