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.

 

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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.

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!