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.

 

The Science Behind Balloon-Caused Outages

Boquet of balloons near power linesOn a hot summer day, you’re barbecuing in the backyard to celebrate a birthday with family and friends. The yard is filled with great food, crepe decorations, and birthday balloons. In good spirits, your friend hands a shiny metallic balloon to your young nephew, who promptly releases the balloon into the sky.

As you look up, the balloon quickly approaches a power line just above the backyard. The balloon makes contact. Suddenly, there is a flash, with sparks shooting in every direction, and the power goes out throughout the neighborhood.

Why does this happen? The shiny balloon is made of a material called Mylar. While Mylar is a nonconductive plastic, the external coating of this type of balloon contains metal, making it a conductor of electricity. When the balloon’s conductive coating hits the active electrical line, this creates a momentary spike in electricity and short‑circuits the power line, resulting in potential outages, fires, and damage to equipment. The explosive reaction often resembles this clip of a Mylar balloon hitting a power line in Long Beach, California.

In addition to its dangerous coating, a Mylar balloon is also more likely to run into a power line than any other type of balloon, such as a latex balloon. The metal coating makes the balloon airtight, preventing the helium from escaping through the material and allowing the balloon to stay inflated for up to two weeks longer than other balloons. This significantly increases the chances of power line contact. While any helium balloon can create damage from hitting an electrical line, Mylar balloons tend to be the worst.

To avoid unnecessary power outages, damage, and injuries, follow these precautionary steps when celebrating with helium balloons:

  • Keep balloons indoors when possible
  • Tie down balloons with a weight
  • Never release balloons outside
  • Puncture balloons before disposing of them

If you see a balloon stuck in a power line, don’t try to remove it or touch the power equipment. Call our Utility Control Center at (408) 615-5640 for assistance.

The Power of The Geysers

At a facility 72 miles north of San Francisco, a powerful force deep underground is harnessed to supply almost five percent of California’s electricity. The facility, known as The Geysers, taps into a reservoir of steam over two miles below ground and turns it into usable electricity. Each year, this steam generates up to 5.5 million Megawatt-hours (MWh) of power, making The Geysers the largest geothermal field in the world. 

Luckily for Santa Clara, we have invested in this renewable, reliable power resource. Through the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA), we co-own two geothermal plants at The Geysers. Together, our plants produce up to 240 MWh of power each year – enough to power as many as 240,000 homes among our combined customers.  

How does it work? Like most geothermal plants, The Geysers collects naturally created high-pressure steam from underground “wells” and directs that steam into large turbines that turn to generate electricity. Since the flow of heat from the Earth is fairly constant, the plants are very reliable, producing steady power 24 hours a day. 

But The Geysers is even more renewable and innovative than most geothermal plants: the facility also redirects wastewater headed for a recreational lake, treats it, and adds it to the geothermal wells. Solar-powered pumps are used to move the water from the wastewater plant and up over the hill to the geothermal facility. These resourceful efforts mean that little is wasted and the positive environmental benefits are multiplied.  

The Geysers is one of the many diverse resources we use to power Santa Clara and provide carbon-free electricity to all residents. Through smart investments in innovative renewable power plants, we’re able to provide our customers with modern, affordable power solutions.

 

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.  

 

Going Pole to Pole

Power line repairHow often do you think about the utility poles in your neighborhood? You may not think about this utility infrastructure when you make that overdue phone call to Mom, send a last-minute work email, or host Friday night movie night, but it’s all made possible by the utility lines running through Santa Clara and the poles that connect them.

As modern communications evolve, more equipment and more cables are added to poles: Cables for power and telephones are joined by lines for cable television and internet services and more wires become necessary to serve more subscribers. This additional weight can cause pole loads to exceed safe levels. Every utility pole has a defined amount of weight and stress that it can handle from attached equipment and weather conditions, as determined by the California Public Utilities Commission. When the pole weights exceed these safety levels, unsafe conditions such as power outages and fires can occur.

Today, utility poles across California are approaching this overloaded status more and more frequently. For example, one region in southern California has seen up to 22 percent of its utility poles reach overloaded status. To keep our community connected and safe, our team is taking comprehensive measures to ensure our community’s utility poles are up-to-date. We’re currently undertaking a multiyear pole inspection program to investigate 10,000 poles and crossarms in Santa Clara for symptoms of overloading and decay.

This information will be stored in a database, which will provide us with an accurate view of every pole in the field, help us create new pole designs, and track overloaded poles. Our new database will also work with pole loading software to analyze features such as pole strength, wire and equipment attachments, environmental factors, and any interactions of these elements that influence a pole’s structural integrity.

With this system, we’ll be able to see when poles need to be updated or replaced before a problem occurs. For example, this spring our crews are set to replace over 45 poles and numerous crossarms with new structures. All crossarms are made with newer composite materials that are stronger and more resilient to wind and other weather than traditional wood materials.

Our team is always on the lookout for new technologies that can improve our services and keep our customers connected. While at first glance utility poles may not seem like an obvious source of technological progress, bringing you more durable infrastructure allows us to provide the reliable service you expect.

These devices may be quietly driving up your home’s energy use

Dish Space HeaterDo you know which systems and appliances in your home use the most electricity? Many people might guess that their heating and cooling systems are the biggest energy users – and for years, that was true. However, the digital revolution means that plug-in appliances are playing an increasing role in the typical home’s energy consumption. We often see three common electrical appliances that can unexpectedly raise customers’ energy use.

Gaming consoles and DVRs seem harmless, but they tend to use much more energy than customers realize. This is not only because consumers are acquiring more entertainment devices, but also because those devices are plugged in all the time, sucking out “vampire power” even when not in use. We advise customers to unplug their devices when not in use, turn to a low power mode, or consider investing in a smart power strip.

While their warmth might be great on a cold winter day, space heaters can heat up your electricity bill if used extensively. Some of our customers use multiple space heaters to heat their whole homes all day long. Others continue to use their space heaters after their circuit breakers trip (i.e., outlets shut off). This is not an ideal way to heat your home. First, if your circuit breakers trip while using a space heater, your electrical system has overloaded and automatically shuts off to prevent a fire. Second, central heating is the most efficient and economical way to heat a large space or your whole home. We recommend only using one space heater at a time and using it to warm up a small space for a short period (one – two hours a day). To find the best space heater for your needs, check our Space Heater Guide and entertaining Space Heater Video.

Another appliance that may be using more energy than you’d think is your second fridgeKill-a-Watt electric consumption meter or supplemental freezer. Having that extra cold storage in the garage for extra beverages might be great for entertaining, but be smart and consider unplugging it during off-seasons or between holidays.

Interested in learning more about how your home is using electricity? Sign up for our free, in-home energy audit or borrow a Kill-A-Watt meter from our free Tool Lending Library.

Cheers to cleaner power for Santa Clara in the new year!

On January 1, 2018, you’ll wake up, roll out of bed, and get ready to start your day. As you flip on the lights, you won’t feel any different. However, something will have changed. Starting in the new year, the electricity that powers your lights, your coffee maker, your morning news – your entire home – will be more sustainable.

How is that possible? We are eliminating coal power from Santa Clara’s electricity supply portfolio by divesting from our small share in a San Juan coal plant. Starting January 1, 2018, all of the electricity supplied to your home will be generated by various renewable, hydroelectric and natural gas resources. This means your carbon footprint will be reduced – without you having to change a thing. It’s that simple.

For years, we used coal power because it was reliable and affordable. However, coal contributed over half of Santa Clara’s carbon emissions from electricity use last year, while making up only 10 percent of our power mix. We knew we needed to move beyond coal in order to reach our sustainability goals.

As a community, moving away from coal will reduce our carbon footprint from electricity use by about 50 percent. This transition to cleaner energy will not only place us ahead of the City of Santa Clara’s Climate Action Plan, but it will also allow us to maintain some of the lowest electricity rates in the state. You might think that cleaner energy would be more expensive, but evolving market forces have made many of these sources more affordable. Powering our homes, businesses, and schools with cleaner energy not only makes sense for the environment, it makes economic sense, too.

We’re proud to move into the new year coal-free. Santa Clara customers who want to do more to decrease their carbon footprint can choose to sign up for our 100 percent wind and solar power option, Santa Clara Green Power.

Read the full press release on our website.

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San Juan Coal Plant

 

 

The Future is Bright in Santa Clara

When driving, biking, or walking at night, what is your number one concern? For most people, safety gets the top spot. Visibility is tied closely to safety on the night street: nighttime driving is three times more dangerous than driving in the day and well-lit streets allow drivers to see pedestrians from twice the distance they do on poorly lit roads. That’s why we’re excited to move forward with Phase 2 of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, beginning this week.

LED street and intersection lights provide improved visibility and more controlled coverage than traditional lights. This is because LEDs spread light more evenly across an area and more precisely control where light is directed. That means less light pollution and more uniform lighting with less dark spots between poles, which results in a safer walk or ride for residents.

In June 2015, SVP completed Phase 1 of its LED Streetlight Retrofit Project, installing over 5,000 new LED streetlights. Phase 2 is expected to finish in early 2018 and will modernize intersection lights in southern Santa Clara as well as some streetlights in the northeast.

Not only do these LED street and intersection lighting upgrades mean safer nighttime trips, they also cut down on energy use. LEDs use up to 50 percent less energy than currently installed high-pressure sodium and mercury vapor streetlights. This translates into real energy savings: the 5,000+ LED streetlights installed in the first phase of our LED Streetlight Retrofit Project save us three million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That’s enough energy to power 600 homes!

LED street and intersection lights also reduce our operational costs. LEDs last up to four times longer than the existing streetlights, which reduces lighting maintenance costs and bulb replacements.

Implementing this technology on a larger scale will help the Santa Clara community achieve a brighter and greener outlook on life.