Santa Clara Customers Lead the Nation

Solar Panel Array with Santa Clara Green Power program logoSanta Clara has a higher proportion of its residents and businesses participating in a renewable energy program than most communities in the nation. While our city is known for its leadership and advancements in technology, we are also leading the path to a more sustainable future. Our Santa Clara Green Power program has once again been honored as one of the National Renewable Energy Lab’s (NREL) Top 10 utility green power programs in the nation.   

Santa Clara Green Power is a voluntary program that allows Santa Clara residents and businesses to match 100 percent of their electricity usage with solar power, 80 percent of which is sourced from California. Participation in Santa Clara Green Power has grown to 9.35 percent in 2017, indicating the rising importance of renewables to our community members. The program also achieved the second highest green power sales with a rate of 12.15 percent in 2017. As the community grows increasingly concerned about climate change, Santa Clara Green Power offers the ability for all interested customers to support renewables, opening up access to green power to customers without solar rooftop systems.   

2017 marks the twelfth year that Santa Clara Green Power has been recognized by NREL and the third consecutive year that the program has been awarded three top honors. Santa Clara has also been nationally recognized as one of the EPA’s top five Green Power Communities. Our customers continue to demonstrate Santa Clara’s future-focused outlook on energy as we integrate sustainability into our city’s everyday operations.    

We launched Santa Clara Green Power as a direct response to our customers’ desire for green power and choice in their electricity service. We are proud to offer service that is tailor-made for Santa Clara. Visit our website for more information and to sign up for Santa Clara Green Power today.  

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Making waves as a power engineer

ChrisKarwick2At twenty-three years old, Chris Karwick was working as a merchant marine engineering officer aboard a commercial ship in Antarctica when he found himself in a perilous situation: The ship had become trapped in a thick sheet of ice due to engine failure. Days passed with no solution, and Chris, a manager with several direct reports, was asked for advice and direction. Together with other crew members, Chris helped organize a makeshift repair to the engine that allowed the ship to break free from the ice pack and be towed safely to New Zealand.  

High-stakes experiences like this have shaped Chris’ ability to think quickly on his feet and communicate in tough situations. After traveling the world, Chris decided to settle down in Silicon Valley and bring his engineering and leadership talents to the utilities and power generation sector.  

In his role as the Division Manager of Power Generation, Chris oversees our power generation assets inside and outside of Santa Clara, such as the Donald Von Raesfeld Power Plant and the Stony Gorge Hydroelectric Facility. On a day-to-day basis, he makes sure that power is produced and dispatched properly, that our operations meet environmental standards, and that the power generation staff maintains a safe workplace. Building off his past experience managing others, Chris enjoys helping his team members develop their skills.  

In his free time, Chris loves spending time with his wife and two kids in Santa Cruz camping, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors. He rekindles his sense of adventure as often as possible and tries to pass on his love of travel to his children.

 

Anatomy of a Power Outage in Santa Clara

Be Prepared for a Power OutageIt’s 1 a.m. on a January eveningand strong winds are blowing through Santa Clara. A palm frond breaks loose and flies into a power line. Lights in nearby homes flicker and then go out. Customers begin reaching out to us to see if they are the only customer without power and when power will be restored. But what’s going on behind the scenes? While every power event is different, here’s a look inside a typical outage.

Operational Center: When the palm frond shorts out the line, a control operator at our operational center sees an alarm on the monitor; a short circuit “fault” has completely shut down a circuit covering multiple neighborhoods within the city. As a safety measure, the automatic response system does not attempt to restore power to the area until it can be inspected for damage and safety, and ultimately re-energized by our personnel.

The control operator immediately alerts managers, customer service, and dispatch. Shortly after the first alarm, a troubleshooter is sent out to begin tracing the problem. In a large outage like this, the customer service team begins posting to social media and they’re called in to start fielding calls from residents. Sometimes residents can provide information that helps pinpoint the exact location of the issue, which is often helpful after dark.

Distribution Substation: Still unaware of the exact cause, our substation electrician heads to the distribution substation nearest to the affected area to determine if the problem stems from the substation itself, or the distribution line that showed an alarm. The electrician identifies that the issue is within the distribution line and alerts the control operator, who directs the troubleshooter to begin inspecting the lines of the affected circuit.

Power Checkpoints: The troubleshooter inspects circuit indicators on checkpoints along power poles and in readily accessible underground vaults located every few blocks, following the flashing warning signals along the circuit. When the troubleshooter finds a checkpoint with normal, non-flashing indicator, it means the problem is between that check point and the previous one inspected. Many times, the troubleshooter will begin isolating the problem area and restore power to residents in cleared zones.

Issue Area: The troubleshooter soon finds the palm frond that has landed below the power lines. Fortunately, the power lines have not been damaged. However, the palm frond has been scorched by 12,000 volts of electricity. The crew informs the operator that all is clear. The electrician at the substation resets the sensors, initiates all safety checks, and enables power to flow back through the circuit.

Nearby Homes: The cause and location of the outage determines the time to restore power to customers, and it is important for our staff to conduct safety inspections before returning power to affected circuits. If the problem section of the line can be isolated, many customers can have power restored just minutes after the problem is identified.

Our team works hard to ensure minimal power disruption, but power restoration times vary and some occurrences are beyond our control. When an unexpected power outage like this occurs, we want you to be ready. To prepare your home for when the lights do go out, check out our power outage preparation tips.

Sparking Inspiration in Silicon Valley

Jeff Duncan of Silicon Valley Power in front of a ladder that leans against a utility pole.An adrenaline rush – that’s what a coal mine electrician experiences every day. The tough working conditions and challenging electrical problems in a mine test one’s endurance and ability to solve problems under pressure.  

After succeeding in this demanding workplace, Jeff Duncan was up for a new adventure. One year ago, he switched from the coal industry to the utility industry and moved to Santa Clara to work with us as an electric meter technician. Jeff made the switch because he wanted to work in a growing industry where he could develop new skills and advance his career. His love of Silicon Valley and technology made the decision to join our team even easier.  

As a meter technician, no day on the job is the same for Jeff. He has a range of responsibilities, from inspecting meters that are recording no usage to testing faulty wires. He also assists with Wi-Fi troubleshooting calls and resolves connectivity issues. While the electrical work itself remains similar, these applications are very different from his previous job. A techie, Jeff is happy to learn new skills on the job. “I see my job evolving to focus more on wireless communication services in the future,” Jeff says.  

Jeff has also found an encouraging community here at Silicon Valley Power, with colleagues who support his growth. “Every day is great when you are working around great people who can teach you new things,” Jeff says. In his free time, Jeff spends time with his wife and three daughters. They love to play family basketball games, setting aside quality time to exercise and have fun together.  

 

A Local Focus Brings Big Impact

Erica JueFor an energy and environmental policy professional, designing national and international regulations from Washington D.C. or New York City might seem like the ultimate end goal. But to Erica Jue, it was simply a starting point for creating meaningful and tangible change at a local level.

Throughout her early career, Erica worked on large-scale policy at a federal and global level. She was introduced to the energy sector through work with the California Environmental Protection Agency. After that, she honed her technical and policymaking skills at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Center for Clean Air Policy, developing energy forecasts and emissions impact analyses.

Then, in June of this year, Erica decided to join Silicon Valley Power (SVP) as a resource analyst. “My biggest motivation for this role was to move from working at the federal level to the local level. I felt that I could have more of an impact on the area that I live in and see how the work that I do impacts the community,” she said.

At SVP, Erica has found a new avenue for her background in economics and statistics and her creative spirit – she manages our renewable energy portfolio and helps us meet our carbon emission reduction goals. “I like that I am actually implementing those policies now,” said Erica. “Part of that implementation is having an effect not just on Santa Clara, because we do have a cleaner grid, but also nationally because we are setting an example for other regions.”

Her role also involves analyzing potential investments in renewables and the role of new technologies, such as fuel cells and energy storage. “What’s exciting about the industry is that there’s a lot of technological change,” she said. “Not only is the state willing to move forward on green power and innovative technologies, but the industry is too.”

Her refined career focus has accompanied a welcome lifestyle shift. “In my former life, I spent a lot of time in the city,” Erica said. “I love being able to spend more time outdoors now – gardening and hiking in the woods with my fiancé. We have the Sierras, the Redwoods, and the beach all so close by.”

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.

 

Power to the Public

PPW 2017 GraphicIn Santa Clara, the people have the power. All electricity in the city is provided by our community-owned, not-for-profit entity – Silicon Valley Power (SVP). We are among the few fortunate communities that have retained this setup: Only 14 percent of all electricity customers in the U.S. are served by public power. The public, local-ownership model ensures that the utility and the community’s interests are aligned. Our team here at SVP knows that when we’re all on the same team, there are a lot of benefits.

LOW, STABLE RATES

Silicon Valley Power provides the lowest electric rates of any utility in California serving more than 5,000 customers. We set our rates based on our operating expenses because we are a not-for-profit entity. Our stable, low rates mean residents can save for their families and businesses can count on Santa Clara as great place to grow their operations. In contrast, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) are tied to shareholders whose interests may not match up with those of the communities they serve. The difference that makes? Our community saves an estimated over $100M in electric costs annually.

CUSTOM COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS

As a public power entity, we can provide programs and services tailored to Santa Clara’s unique needs. We have invested in long-term power contracts from reliable, sustainable power sources and in critical infrastructure that will provide benefits for years to come. Programs like our energy-efficiency rebates are designed with Santa Clara residents in mind. Our community initiatives, such as our local scholarships, Neighborhood Solar Program, Tool Lending Library, and sponsorships, move our city forward. Similarly, when our community began to show interest in renewable energy, we started offering Santa Clara Green Power, our award-winning 100 percent green power option. The program launched way back in 2004, long before most utilities in the region provided comparable offerings. Santa Clara Green Power has been ranked in National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Top 10 Utility Green Power Programs for 11 consecutive years, has ranked fourth in the nation for its collective green power use by the EPA, and has offered green power rates significantly lower than those of surrounding communities.

LOCAL JOBS & EMPLOYEES

Operating locally also lets us create stable, rewarding jobs right here in Santa Clara. This means our customers are served by employees that know our city inside and out. So when you speak with an SVP team member on the phone, online, or in the community, you can feel confident that they are not only subject matter experts but Santa Clara experts. Learn more about some of our wonderful employees in our Meet Our Employees blog feature.

At Silicon Valley Power, we know that the local, not-for-profit utility structure we’ve had for more than 120 years is special and worth protecting. Cities around us that don’t have public power are starting to recognize its benefits and mimic parts of it. Some Bay Area cities are participating in Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which procures power for a group of cities. This may better align power purchases with community interest in lowering carbon emissions, but infrastructure, programs, and customer service are still operated by an IOU. Only a community-owned and operated utility like Silicon Valley Power truly puts the power in the hands of the people and provides the full benefits of public power.

Trading Coasts – and Electrons

May_QiuManaging electricity rates and market risk sounds daunting, but to some people it evokes the thrill and pace of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor.

For Yanmei (May) Qiu, a 10-year Silicon Valley Power veteran, supporting energy trading and analyzing rates is all in a day’s work to help her customers get the most affordable rates on the market.

May came to the U.S. from mainland China to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics from University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, she left for the East Coast, earning a master’s in finance from Boston College and working in corporate finance in Boston. Before too long, she returned to the Bay Area, eager to escape East Coast winters and see old friends.

Since 2007, May has been working for SVP in risk control analysis, balancing SVP’s risks and costs to make energy transactions run smoothly. “I help ensure we have the reliable power we need and the credit to back it up,” says May. “We have a 24-hour trading floor, it’s kind of like a stock exchange.”

A few months ago, on top of her risk management position, May stepped in and became the acting division manager for market analysis and pricing. In this new role, she must look at the “whole picture,” as she calls it, to analyze how rates are structured.

Her multifaceted experience and holistic approach to the business has helped her optimize these rate structures. May is proud that she plays a part in offering customers some of the lowest electricity rates in California. While her years of education have prepared her well for her career at Silicon Valley Power, she says, “I learn something new every day.”

When May isn’t learning new skills or showing off her finance chops, she spends quality time with her husband and two daughters, ages three and seven.

A Tradition of Community Support

DSC01189For the past twelve years, the SVP Scholarship Program has recognized exceptional students who live or go to school in Santa Clara and are pursuing promising careers in energy services, electric utilities, and other fields associated with the power industry.

Supporting local students benefits our community and helps foster an interest in the energy and utilities sectors in the next generation. We are thrilled to see the passion for energy shown by this year’s scholarship recipients and their inspired visions for making an impact on the evolving energy sector. Investing in their future will continue to attract more talented leaders to the utilities workforce – and maybe even to Silicon Valley Power!

Each scholarship winner this year received $5,000 to support their path to becoming a scientist, engineer, technician, electric utility field worker, or policymaker.

The 2017 winners are:

Christine Yee, chemistry student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Yee, a Wilcox High School graduate, believes that development of more effective biofuels to meet future energy needs is an answer to global warming. She hopes to use her knowledge of chemistry to popularize the use of biofuels.

Tiffany Madruga, engineering student at Harvey Mudd College. In high school, Madruga, a Santa Clara resident, was a member of the robotics team where she mentored students during summer science camp. Her experiences at camp fostered her interest in engineering and sparked a new curiosity about solar power.

Tamara Pantic, international relations and political science student at the University of California, Berkeley. She aims to make an impact through initiatives that increase funding for clean energy research and lower the costs of renewable energy.

We are proud to invest in these three outstanding students and the energy leaders of the future. For more than 120 years, Silicon Valley Power has been an integral part of the Santa Clara community and we are excited to continue our tradition of supporting the community by helping local students enter this important field.

Starting Sept. 15, 2017, SVP will begin accepting applications for the 2018-2019 school year. Those interested in applying for a SVP scholarship or grant should complete and return the appropriate application by Dec. 15, 2017.

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.