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 “Just like maintaining your car to make sure it doesn’t break down on the freeway, we have to replace aging and outdated equipment to prevent unexpected outages.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.

The Wisdom of Wind

Wind has come a long way since the 1980s in terms of the power industry and wind powerLooking up at wind turbine - with logo. It’s hard to believe that many of the wind turbines we put into action in 1982 were able to generate only about 100 kilowatts of energy, maybe enough to power about 36 homes when the wind was blowing at our first wind farm at Altamont Pass. Soon we will have giant turbines that can put out almost 2 megawatts (MW) of power each, enough to power 730 homes, and they’re more efficient (taking up less space for more power).

Plus they are a clean, green source of electricity.

The Altamont Pass location has changed in recent years. Towers now can be 100 feet or more in height, utilizing wind that is stronger and more consistent than breezes closer to the ground. Lattice support towers that encouraged bird nesting are being replaced by towers designed without nesting opportunities and bird collisions have been significantly reduced as modern turbine blades over 100 feet in diameter turn slower than those on older windmills.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that most windmills in the country are started when wind speeds are between 8 and 16 miles per hour and turned off when winds exceed 55 mph. Higher winds can damage the windmills, so operators remotely stop them from spinning.

Today we can generate almost 200 MW from wind for local distribution, using turbines at Altamont as well as power from wind farms in Washington and Southern California (see our energy resources map). Combining that wind energy with the electricity generated by solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and landfill gas resources, we’re able to keep our power generation for our Santa Clara customers over 40 percent carbon free.

When the West Coast Went Dark: What We Learned from Massive 1996 Power Outage

On August 10, 1996, a massive power outage struck Western North America, knocking out power in several U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California during a heat wave. In less than two hours, five high voltage power lines came into contact with trees in Oregon and Washington and a domino effect took out dozens of critical power lines as well as large electricity generating units from British Columbia and Alberta in Canada to New Mexico and Baja California. Since the nature of electricity is to flow in the most efficient direction (or path of least resistance), a tree can give it a way to flow straight to ground, interrupting power flow and causing breakers to trip when they sense a problem on the line. One such incident can impact a relatively small area, but a series of outages such as occurred in 1996 is a serious problem.

Power was out from a few minutes to six hours in California, according to a California Energy Commission survey, and the Union of Concerned Scientists says approximately 7.5 million people overall were affected by the power failure. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, those affected were located in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming and Washington, and Mexico’s Baja California.

What we and other utilities learned from this outage is that we need to proactively address hazards. We know that tree limbs cause outages, and we know that old and outdated equipment such as power poles and cross arms can fail. Trimming tree limbs before problems occur has long been part of our ongoing commitment to reliable delivery of electricity.

That’s why we encourage our customers to let us know if they see a branch that appears too close to a power line; we’ll inspect it and trim it if it’s a problem. We’ve also hired a company to accelerate our continuing replacement of power poles and cross arms, many of which are over 40 years old.

This ongoing methodical program of maintenance and system upgrades will continue for a few years, and it will increase our reliability and decrease the possibility of an unexpected power outage that can be inconvenient at best and create dangerous traffic and health facility problems at worst.

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.

His Best Pitch Was A Slider

As a right-handed pitcher in the Cleveland Indians pro baseball minor league system, Randy Rambis Baseball Card PhotoRandy Rambis was working his way up to the major leagues when a shoulder injury and surgery sidelined his career. Drafted by Cleveland out of California State University-Hayward, Randy pitched for teams in New York, Iowa and Tennessee.

Baseball’s loss was our gain. Randy went to work for the city in 1988, first in the Parks and Recreation Department and then as an electrician for SVP. Now, as one of our veteran troublemen who works on the front line, Randy often braves weather that would postpone a baseball game when he’s the first person on the scene of an outage.

Rambis sometimes has to make an evaluation and help with the decision on what to do next. He knows how to look for signals.

“I’ll patrol the power lines and look for fault indicators that can let us know where an outage problem is. Branches, birds, squirrels and balloons cause a lot of our outages.” Working in that environment, Rambis earns his rest days.

While road trips were not always the favorite part of the athlete’s job, Randy now uses them to get away with his wife Caryen. One of his best memories is a weeks-long drive through the Northwest and then the Midwest with no real itinerary. “Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) and Glacier National Park helped make it one of the best trips of my life.”

When he returns, he’s ready to take the mound for our customers. And with the ability to get electricity back on in a neighborhood, you might say he has his power delivery down pat.

Wind Power Winning the Day for Electricity Users

Did you know that wind power is actually considered a type of solar power by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)? Wind farm - with logo

In an explanation of how wind turbines work, the DOE points out that winds are caused by the heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the rotation of the Earth, and the Earth’s surface irregularities. Maybe we can add “earth spin power” to our list of renewable energy sources.

At SVP we have the potential use of almost 200 megawatts (MW) of peak wind power for our customers. The actual amount utilized at any one time usually depends on when and where the wind is blowing. As of Dec. 31, 2015, California had 6,108 megawatts (MW) of wind power potential, according to the DOE. The DOE states there are 74,472 megawatts of wind power capable of being generated overall in the U.S.

Wind power is here to stay, and for good reason.

So how does wind add up? The advantages as well as the challenges associated with wind power include:

  • It’s a green renewable energy source. Turbines don’t emit atmospheric pollutants.
  • It’s sustainable. As long as the sun shines and the wind blows, power can be harnessed and distributed to the grid.
  • Wind turbines can be built on existing farms or ranches. Some of the best wind farm sites are in rural areas. Since wind turbines use very little land, farmers and ranchers can continue working their land while at the same time earning extra income from renting their land to power companies.
  • Wind helps the economy and creates jobs. U.S. wind power projects in 2014 employed more than 73,000 workers and resulted in more than $8 billion of private capital entering the economy, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The DOE’s Wind Vision Report says by 2050, wind power might support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and support services.

There are also challenges for wind power.

Other sources of electricity can be cheaper than wind power. Some fossil-fueled generation sources can sometimes provide electricity more cheaply than wind farms. Also, the initial investment for wind power technology is higher than the investment needed for conventional resources.

  • Rural sites are good for wind but they can be far from populations needing the electricity. This requires transmission lines to deliver the power from a remote location.
  • A wind farm development might not be the most profitable use of the land. Other types of development not related to power generation may be more profitable for owners of land suitable for a wind project.
  • Turbines might cause noise and aesthetic pollution. Concern exists over the noise produced by the turbine blades and visual impacts to the landscape.
  • Turbine blades could damage local wildlife. There is concern about turbine blades killing and injuring birds. The Audubon Society has long supported wind power while encouraging new wind farm location parameters and continued improvement in pole design. Slower turbines, improved monitoring of bird behavior and flight paths, and sensitivity to bird migration routes have all played a role in reducing impacts of wind turbines on birds. In fact, a good portion of turbines are shut down for two months during the bird migration season at Altamont Pass, where we are also working toward replacing the smaller, faster-spinning small turbines with new large units.

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.