Your local power grid – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

No one likes an unexpected surprise like a car breakdown or a heater that suddenly stops working. That’s why most of us do preventative maintenance on our cars and home. It’s the same logic and due diligence that we apply when we perform inspections on our equipment and repair or replace items like power poles when needed.

Many of our power poles and cross arms have held up for more than 40 years, but it’s time to be sure they remain up to the job of reliably carrying electricity to our customers. We’ve contracted with Osmose Utilities Services to perform inspections on all of our power poles over the next five years to improve reliability and perform preventative maintenance.

Customers affected by this important effort are being notified by letter several weeks prior to work in their area. In some cases Osmose will need to access backyards to perform the inspection. We know privacy is very important, so as a courtesy Osmose will first knock on the door to let you know they need to enter your property. If no one answers the door, Osmose will enter the backyard and perform the power pole inspection. If the gate is locked and inspectors cannot access the power pole, they’ll leave a door hanger asking for you to contact SVP with a time to complete the inspection.

Working hours are 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, Monday through Friday and each inspection can take 20-40 minutes. Residents may also see SVP crews in neighborhoods for Saturday appointments. Osmose inspectors will have identification indicating they are a contractor for the City of Santa Clara. It’s always a good idea to ask to see the ID, or call us if you are unsure.

We‘re doing everything possible to minimize the impact of this critical maintenance work and we apologize in advance for any inconvenience this might cause. Customers with questions or concerns are welcome to contact us at (408) 244-7283.

This work increases the reliability of your power. As with a car or a home, we feel that it is wise to inspect, maintain and/or repair equipment rather than wait until there’s a problem that could have been prevented.

Don’t Get Fooled – Our Green Power is Still the Cheapest!

You may start hearing about a new kind of electric company in the area that will claim their green power is a great deal for residents. What these “Community Choice” companies don’t say is that our 100 percent green and carbon-free program, Santa Clara Green Power, remains the lowest-cost plan in the South Bay Area. Period.

Our community is very proud that we pioneered the adoption of clean, renewable and affordable energy decades ago, and our award-winning green power program is now 13 years old. Last year, Santa Clara Green Power earned a position on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s national top 10 listing that benchmarks green power programs.

We love new ideas that promote clean energy, but we want our customers to know that these new community choice power companies 1) do not offer electricity service in the City of Santa Clara, and 2) have rates that are higher than SVP’s for a comparable electricity product.

Take a look at the table below showing the residential green power prices proposed by one of the new companies, Silicon Valley Clean Energy compared to SVP rates, which average about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for 100 percent Santa Clara Green Power.

While these new companies are giving their customers more options in the region for buying cleaner energy, which is a good thing, we are proud to be an industry leader by offering 100 percent green power at much lower rates.

CCA Rate Comparison

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.

“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.

SVP Recognized for Superior Leadership

Over 120 years ago, our City established its municipal electric utility in order to provide DSC_0983.JPGstreet lighting in the growing city. Today, our commitment to Santa Clara includes not only affordable and reliable power, but also numerous innovative programs, an emphasis on community engagement and participation in the local and regional battle against climate change.

These attributes earned us an award from the Northwest Public Power Association (NWPPA). The Paul J. Raver Award, given for demonstrating superior leadership in the betterment of cities, states or regions, was presented to us on May 11, 2017 at the NWPPA Annual Meeting in Sunriver, OR.

This prestigious honor belongs to every one of our SVP employees. From our power resources and control room staff, to our line workers and engineers, and to our customer service representatives and community program managers, there is not one person here who did not contribute to winning this award.

According to NWPPA’s news release, “Silicon Valley Power has been committed to providing the community with highly reliable power at low rates and has worked hard to diversify its resources and continually invest in renewable energy to further reduce its carbon footprint.”

The association further cited SVP’s key role in forming the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) in 1968, which organized similar municipal electric utilities in the state to allow them to buy electricity on the wholesale market. NCPA members also jointly developed cost-effective power generation resources for its members, resulting in lower rates than other utilities.

SVP still has the lowest system average rates in California among utilities with more than 5,000 customers, while remaining committed to doing so with a power mix that exceeds California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

SVP has had a lifetime of serving our community. Our policies, philosophy and programs are all geared to provide value to Santa Clara. And 120 years later, we still take care of the street lights.

Bike to work for a day, a week, a month!

Riding a bike to work can be great fun, and it’s good for you! The month of May is Bike to Work Month, highlighted by Bike to Work Day on Thursday, May 11, and we’ll be hosting our energizer station for Bike to Work Day again this year. Plan your route, then stop by and say hi if you’re riding down El Camino Real near the Caltrain station, across from Santa Clara University. Under the Silicon Valley Power tent, we’ll have snacks, a tote bag, goodies, and lots of encouragement for you.

Biking isn’t only good for the environment, but also a great way to get some fresh air, exercise, and ditch the commute traffic! The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition points out that almost 40 percent of commuters in the Bay Area live within five miles of work, a distance perfectly possible even for inexperienced bicyclists. Since we all want to reduce our carbon footprint, it’s interesting to know that if these commuters rode bikes instead of driving to work, it would take more than 60,000 vehicles off the road, reducing tailpipe emissions by more than 150,000 pounds.

If you have a longer commute, mix in some public transit. VTA buses and Caltrain can accommodate bikes (and their riders) and some stations have bike lockers too.

Head to Bike Silicon Valley for information and resources – and remember that helmet and sunscreen!

Serving on Navy Fast-Attack Sub Leads to Career at SVP

Submerged on a U.S. Navy submarine for two straight months probably strengthened tim_lynch_archeryevery sense of teamwork and duty for Tim Lynch. Our Electric Program Manager calls his service as a nuclear engineer aboard a fast-attack sub as the one of the most memorable events of his life.

“There is no bond stronger than the one made by a team that strives for the highest quality of work in its entirety,” says the Wilcox High School graduate who served in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service until 2000.

After his naval career, Tim entered the semiconductor industry where he provided global support for plasma reactors. He followed his interests to move into the hard drive and robotics industry before settling into cyber security with Milton Security, a company that works with SVP and other utilities to protect their systems. SVP hired him full time in 2015.

IT project management for the utility is among his responsibilities. “We have a great group of professionals. My team and I are a little like the Swiss army knife for the Electric Department. We provide technology solutions and help out the division managers who oversee all the tasks associated with our local grid. I enjoy it because every day is different.”

Tim recently took over Santa Clara’s advanced meter program (SVP MeterConnect®), a meter technology that will allow customers to view their hourly electricity usage and make adjustments that can save them energy and money. Separate from the metering technology, SVP MeterConnect also provides the free outdoor citywide Wi-Fi in the City.

When he’s not leading the IT efforts here, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife and four children, who range in age from toddler to teenager.

“It’s really fun to hang out with each kid and watch them go through all the phases of their development. We do a lot of things together, like Irish Dance, archery, and camping.”

One other thing the children enjoy is learning about Tim’s submarine service in the Navy, and how that started a career path that led him here to us at SVP.

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

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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.