Warming Up Safely With a Space Heater

space-heaterSometimes it makes sense to warm up just a small area like an office or bedroom rather than turn on your central heating system. Portable, or room, heaters can effectively and efficiently heat smaller areas of a home or business.

You’ll want to remember that space heaters, even though small, use a significant amount of electricity. With a typical 1500-watt unit, for instance, it will cost you about 16 cents per hour. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you leave a portable heater on for several hours a day or use multiple heaters, it adds up. Smart use of a space heater can save you money compared to using central heating, but being cautious about extended use is important.

Here are some tips on how to manage electricity costs if you use a space heater:

  • Remember to turn it off when you leave the room.
  • Select the right space heater for the situation. Check out our Space Heater Guide to identify what type of heater is best for you.
  • Space heaters work best in smaller rooms that are closed off to the rest of your home. An open door will quickly reduce the effectiveness of the heater.
  • If you’re using multiple space heaters for more than a few hours it may be more cost effective to use your central heating, which is the most efficient way to heat your entire house.
  • Since space heaters use a lot of electricity, multiple heaters on the same circuit can trip a circuit breaker.
  • The higher wattage of these units exceeds the capabilities of most extension cords, creating a fire hazard. Plug your space heater directly into an outlet.

The U.S. Department of Energy also provides some good tips on space heater safety and what to look for when making a purchase.

Meanwhile, putting on a sweater or sweatshirt instead of using that space heater could save you a dollar a day or more. For a little entertainment and a few tips, check out our video comparing three different types of space heaters.

Keep Shocks and Fires Out of Your Holiday Plans

The winter holidays are prime time for home fires and electrical shocks, leading to property damage, burns, or worse. Fortunately, you can avoid many potential home mishaps with some care and attention while working your holiday decorating magic in your home.

Many of the basic electrical threats in the home such as overloaded circuits and extension cord safety were covered in our post on home safety. During the holidays we tend to bring out extra extension cords, indoor and outdoor light strands, power strips and timers. While candles are by far the most dangerous holiday decorations, aged electrical equipment also causes danger. The Electrical Fire Safety Foundation (EFSF) has tips on keeping your holidays safe. Here are some key points:

  • Inspect all extension and lighting cords for damage such as frayed cords or exposed wires.
  • Don’t use electrical ornaments or light strings on artificial trees with metallic leaves or branch coverings.
  • Unlike incandescent bulbs, which generate most of their energy in heat, LEDs are cool to the touch—which also indicates greater energy-efficiency.
  • LEDs are made with epoxy lenses, not glass and are much more durable.
  • When hanging lights outdoors, use a wooden or fiberglass ladder.
  • Turn off all indoor and outdoor holiday lighting before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • Never drape anything over a light bulb or lampshade, even if using LEDs.

While it is unlikely that your tree will catch fire, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA.org) notes that electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 38% of home Christmas tree fires. The results of a tree fire can be devastating, as dramatically shown in their video.

It’s worth the few minutes it takes to check on the condition of your electric decorations and make sure flammable materials are far removed from heat sources such as candles and heaters. We all want to keep the “Happy” in Happy Holidays!

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

miles-wolf-scholarship-pic
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.
mark-wagner-focuses-solar-mirror
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!

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.

Enjoy the Fire – But Don’t Let Your Fireplace Boost Your Energy Bill

A nice fire in the fireplace can help create the perfect atmosphere in a room on a cold flue_openwinter night during the holidays. While most of us enjoy such a scene, it’s important to note that your fireplace can be costing you money when it’s not in use. If you don’t keep the flue damper closed heat can disappear up the chimney. The damper is located inside the chimney flue and must be open when you have a fire and should be closed when there is no fire, usually using a handle, lever or chain attached to the damper. ­

There are some helpful tips on our website about keeping the heat in your home and saving money on your utility bill by closing the damper when the fireplace is not in use. Those tips include:

  • Wear dishwashing gloves while checking the flue and damper to help keep your hands clean.
  • If your flue damper has a loop, you can hang a small sign, piece of ribbon or even the fireplace poker from it to remind you when the flue is closed.
  • If you don’t have a damper or the one you have doesn’t fit properly, there are inflatable flue plugs available online to close off the flue.
  • An open flue not only sends your heat up the chimney in winter but will also vent cool air from your home during the summer.

It’s important to note that there’s more to that roaring blaze than meets the eye. While it chimney_illustration_v2-01gives off heat immediately in front of the fireplace, the heat going up the chimney is actually causing cool air to be drawn into your home through cracks and leaks normally found around windows, doors and wall penetrations for plumbing and electric outlets. That cold air then needs to be warmed by your home’s heating system.

Want to learn more about getting the most out of your fireplace for a warm, cozy and energy-efficient winter season? Visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and search the term “chimney” for additional tips.

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.

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.