“Height” of a career can have two very different meanings!

Phil Waterhouse wife Outlet June 2017Peering down from 90-feet up on a steel tower can be dizzying enough for most people. But staring down that tower and then into another 1,200-foot drop into a canyon excavated for a new hydroelectric dam can be memorable, if not downright scary.

That’s how our Senior Electric Meter Technician Phil Waterhouse described the “height” of a long career in the electric utility industry. At the time, about 30 years ago, he was placing microwave repeaters for the Pathfinder Dam in Wyoming.

“I remember looking around at the horizon, and the dam was the only sign of civilization that I could see,” he said.

Phil enjoyed being away from civilization as a youngster in Indiana, where he grew up next to an open space that was ripe for adventure. When he wasn’t “exploring the wilds of Indiana” as he described it, he tinkered with things, a pastime he still enjoys.

“Some people take apart clocks. I take apart computers and put them back together again. Why buy something fancy when I can cobble something together that does the job?”

As an adult he has extended his hobbies to scuba diving.

“During the 1990s I learned scuba under the YMCA program, earning Basic Diver, Advanced, Night, Cave, Wreck, Ice, Lifesaving and Advanced Lifesaving certificates.”

Fast forward to today, where Phil is marking his 15th year with us. He and his team are currently coordinating the distribution of more than 54,000 advanced meters to our business and residential customers in the City of Santa Clara, where he started as a lineman.

“Eventually we’re going to see some pretty exciting things for our customers with the new technology,” Phil said. “One day, a mobile app will show a customer the increase in their power consumption when they turn on a machine.”

Phil has witnessed the transition of the utility business as an industry professional for four decades.

“I have 41 years as an A-member Journeyman Lineman in the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers),” he said. “I’ve traveled the country and served as foreman on jobs that included most aspects of the electric utility industry, including a couple of general foreman stints on 69-kilovolt (69,000 volts) projects.”

Love of being under water certainly is a contrast to working high in the air over a gaping canyon. In either extreme, it seems Phil has been able to take a deep breath and enjoy his surroundings, wherever he is.

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!

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.”

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.

Millions of Watts all in a Day’s Work

One of the neat things about being in the electric utility business is the fact that electricity is pretty similar worldwide. That brings some interesting people to work for us.

One of those is Sachin Bajacharya, who received his first electrical engineering (EE) IMG_7120degree in Nepal before coming to the U.S. and earning a master’s degree in EE at Lamar University in Texas. With a background focused on power, he then designed and fired up substations for a private Bay Area company that coordinated power infrastructure for commercial customers. Sachin later left that job and joined our team here at SVP as a utility engineer.

“The attraction of coming to SVP was to work with the entire cycle of the electricity business, from how it’s produced and transmitted here to how it’s distributed to the customers,” he said. The distribution system in Santa Clara provides electricity through 525 miles of local power lines.

Now Sachin helps power Santa Clara’s large dynamic business and residential communities, working with millions of watts, or megawatts (MWs), that get distributed to SVP’s 53,000 customers. Getting new state-of-the-art multi-megawatt substations up and running provides him with a special thrill.

“When you see a complex project finally power up and the lights go on, that’s when it’s exciting,” said Bajacharya, a native of Nepal. “I’ll spend a lot of time planning, designing and managing a project so that the power flows safely and reliably.”

“Electricity is a basic need of our modern society and it’s a great feeling to be doing something positive for my community,” said Sachin. As a Santa Clara resident, Sachin enjoys hiking locally with his wife Archana, toddler daughter Tisa, and baby boy, Yaju.

“Things are busy at home with the baby and work is certainly busy at SVP,” he says, “and I’m enjoying both experiences. It’s as much challenge and satisfaction as anyone could ask for.”

Cash Scholarships Encourage Students to Study for Utility Careers

Utilities throughout the nation are facing a workforce shortage that includes well-paid jobs, ranging from power-line workers to control room Lington Gordon - with quote.jpgtechnicians to engineers. That’s why we annually offer college scholarships and technical school tuition grants to students who live in the City of Santa Clara and are pursuing careers related to the electric utility industry.

We’re offering $5,000 scholarships to new and continuing college students and $2,000 to trade school students who will be enrolled by October 2016 for the 2016-17 school year. Thirty college scholarships and six technical school grants totaling $162,000 have been awarded since the program started in 2006.

If you know a student studying energy services, electric utilities, or fields associated with the power industry in general, see the application at www.siliconvalleypower.com/scholarships or call (408) 261-5036 for more information. This year’s deadline is November 3, 2015.