Enjoy the Fire – But Don’t Let Your Fireplace Boost Your Energy Bill

A nice fire in the fireplace can help create the perfect atmosphere in a room on a cold flue_openwinter night during the holidays. While most of us enjoy such a scene, it’s important to note that your fireplace can be costing you money when it’s not in use. If you don’t keep the flue damper closed heat can disappear up the chimney. The damper is located inside the chimney flue and must be open when you have a fire and should be closed when there is no fire, usually using a handle, lever or chain attached to the damper. ­

There are some helpful tips on our website about keeping the heat in your home and saving money on your utility bill by closing the damper when the fireplace is not in use. Those tips include:

  • Wear dishwashing gloves while checking the flue and damper to help keep your hands clean.
  • If your flue damper has a loop, you can hang a small sign, piece of ribbon or even the fireplace poker from it to remind you when the flue is closed.
  • If you don’t have a damper or the one you have doesn’t fit properly, there are inflatable flue plugs available online to close off the flue.
  • An open flue not only sends your heat up the chimney in winter but will also vent cool air from your home during the summer.

It’s important to note that there’s more to that roaring blaze than meets the eye. While it chimney_illustration_v2-01gives off heat immediately in front of the fireplace, the heat going up the chimney is actually causing cool air to be drawn into your home through cracks and leaks normally found around windows, doors and wall penetrations for plumbing and electric outlets. That cold air then needs to be warmed by your home’s heating system.

Want to learn more about getting the most out of your fireplace for a warm, cozy and energy-efficient winter season? Visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and search the term “chimney” for additional tips.

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Don’t Get Left in the Dark – Be Ready for Winter Power Outages

Mother Nature has a way of dealing us surprises in winter, and among the aces up her flashlight_blogsleeve are weather-related power outages. Although we aggressively trim tree limbs near power lines and work to maintain reliability throughout the City, outages do occur. Here are some tips on how to be prepared for a power outage and avoid serious inconvenience.

  • Check your emergency preparedness kit for flashlights and fresh batteries
  • Have ice packs or plastic containers of water in your freezer to place in your refrigerator or a cooler to help keep food cold during an extended outage
  • Keep canned food on hand and have a manual can opener available
  • Keep some cash handy to buy ice or other necessities in case stores in an outage area are unable to process credit or electronic transactions
  • Have a battery-operated radio
  • Have a backup charging method for your phone or other mobile device such as an inexpensive vehicle USB adapter, battery power pack or solar power pack
  • Do not run your vehicle in a garage or enclosed space, or close to your home, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, know where the manual release lever is located and test it before there is an outage
  • Surge protectors on your electronic equipment can guard against damage if a surge occurs when power is restored

Power outages are a fact of life during winter weather and we all should be prepared to safely cope with them. Fortunately, cell phones and other mobile devices that work without household power can give you access to websites and Twitter for information during a power outage or weather emergency.

More information on emergency preparedness and what to do during a power outage is available at www.ready.gov/power-outages and on our website. Updates during a widespread power outage are available by visiting us on Twitter or via our website.

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.”

The Wisdom of Wind

Wind has come a long way since the 1980s in terms of the power industry and wind powerLooking up at wind turbine - with logo. It’s hard to believe that many of the wind turbines we put into action in 1982 were able to generate only about 100 kilowatts of energy, maybe enough to power about 36 homes when the wind was blowing at our first wind farm at Altamont Pass. Soon we will have giant turbines that can put out almost 2 megawatts (MW) of power each, enough to power 730 homes, and they’re more efficient (taking up less space for more power).

Plus they are a clean, green source of electricity.

The Altamont Pass location has changed in recent years. Towers now can be 100 feet or more in height, utilizing wind that is stronger and more consistent than breezes closer to the ground. Lattice support towers that encouraged bird nesting are being replaced by towers designed without nesting opportunities and bird collisions have been significantly reduced as modern turbine blades over 100 feet in diameter turn slower than those on older windmills.

The U.S. Department of Energy says that most windmills in the country are started when wind speeds are between 8 and 16 miles per hour and turned off when winds exceed 55 mph. Higher winds can damage the windmills, so operators remotely stop them from spinning.

Today we can generate almost 200 MW from wind for local distribution, using turbines at Altamont as well as power from wind farms in Washington and Southern California (see our energy resources map). Combining that wind energy with the electricity generated by solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and landfill gas resources, we’re able to keep our power generation for our Santa Clara customers over 40 percent carbon free.

Call 811 Before You Dig!

811Eng_ver_RGBThe last thing anyone wants is a dangerous surprise while making a home improvement. Buried pipes give us convenient delivery of natural gas, water and electricity, but they also pose a serious threat if they are hit during any type of digging. The hazards lurk in front yards as well as backyards, and a mistake may not only cost you repair expenses, fines, and inconvenience – it can cause serious injury or even death.

Calling 811 two business days before you (or your contractor) dig connects you to a free call center that will take your project information and notify local utilities of your intention to break ground. Each utility will come out to your location within two business days and mark all underground facilities with temporary flags or spray paint at no cost.

Hitting a buried high-voltage power line, fiber optic cable, natural gas line or water pipe can be avoided. So call 8-1-1 before you:

  • install a sidewalk, steps or deck
  • dig a hole for a hedge, tree or fence
  • excavate for a pool
  • start any other project such as putting in a mailbox or adding a fountain.

Federal law requires you to call 8-1-1 two business days before you dig, and it just makes sense to make the call and be sure your project goes without any surprises.

Celebrating Our 120th Birthday

You might say that 1896 was a great year for a number of reasons. The electric stove was Yard Staff - 100 Year Anniversarypatented in June, just before the City of Santa Clara allocated $3,500 to start its electric department, which in time became Silicon Valley Power (SVP). By October 1896 the utility was powering 46 streetlights, a development possibly overshadowed by Harvey Hubbell’s patent on a new light bulb with a pull chain. Other SVP milestones include:

  • 1903: We begin providing electricity to customers
  • 1980: First local electric power plant built
  • 1985: Wind power joins our power portfolio
  • 1988: We add geothermal power to our power mix
  • 1998: “Silicon Valley Power” adopted as our official name
  • 2013: We introduce free citywide outdoor pubic Wi-Fi access
  • 2015: We deliver power that is over 40 percent carbon-free while maintaining the lowest rates of any electric utility in California

Today we serve 53,000 residents and businesses, including some of the world’s most prestigious high technology companies, with power that is nationally known to be very reliable. Our community appreciates our efforts to be as carbon-free as possible (see our Resources Map), and many customers opt to use 100 percent clean, green power by enrolling in the Santa Clara Green Power program. Surveys show that our customers rate us highly for customer service and the lowest rates in the state. We really enjoy that trust from our community, and it inspires us to be even better as we head into our 121st year.

Prevent Shocks and Fires at Home

Electrical problems in homes cause over 50,000 fires a year resulting in hundreds of BePowerSafe Hashtaginjuries and deaths. Many of these electrical malfunctions and accidents are preventable, and taking some time to inspect your home’s indoor electrical system is just a smart thing to do. A simple oversight like a frayed cord or unsafe outlet could cause you grief, and the  even a small amount of electricity can be fatal.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) are inexpensive outlets that prevent electric shocks and should be used in your kitchen, bathrooms, unfinished basement, garage, wet bars and near the laundry room tub. Here are some more tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about how you can prevent a problem:

  • Always turn off power at the circuit breaker box before working on your electrical system. (Hint: this is a good time to label or verify the labeling of your breakers so you know at a glance what they control.)
  • Replace any electric cords that are frayed, cracked or have exposed wires.
  • Do not place cords under rugs, across doorways, or any place where they can be stepped on. Don’t wrap cords tightly around any object.
  • If children are present, use safety covers on all unused outlets, including wall outlets, power strips and extension cords.
  • Do not use extension cords on a permanent basis, and never use metal such as nails or wire staples to hold a cord in place.
  • All electrical equipment, including kitchen appliances like toasters, should be located away from water and moisture sources.
  • Never overload a circuit.
  • If a light switch or outlet is warm, your lights flicker, you have blown fuses or tripped circuits, or you ever receive a slight shock that’s not from static electricity, call a qualified electrician to determine the problem.

Remember, if you have children in your home, you will need to pay special attention to home electrical safety. There are many more areas that you should check out in your home to be sure it’s electrically safe, and some great sources of more information are:

You’re So Cool! Or You Can Be With These Tips

It’s starting to warm up now that mid-summer’s here, and we all want to defeat the heat.Ceiling Fan If you have an air conditioner, you probably don’t want to crank it up all the time since you’ll pay for it when your electric bill comes. Or maybe you don’t have air conditioning and are looking for tips to stay cool. Here are some heat-beating tips that use little or no electricity.

  1. Buy a room fan for less than $15 and cool down people in a room using a very small amount of power.
  2. A bowl of ice placed in front of a fan so that the air blows across the ice can add cooling moisture to your room.
  3. Ceiling fans are effective, and we even offer a rebate for purchasing up to three ceiling fans. Be sure the ceiling fan is going in the right direction: run it counterclockwise in the summer so that air is forced downward. Most ceiling fans have a switch to change the direction of the blades.
  4. At night or in the early morning, open windows and even doors to bring the cool outside air into your home or apartment. Use a fan in the window to help draw the cool air in. Then close up your home when you leave for the day to trap that air inside.
  5. Close your blinds and/or curtains to block sunlight and outdoor warmth from your living areas. Solar heat gain heats up your living space.
  6. Use the microwave or outdoor barbeque to cook meals, or consider preparing cold meals like salads. A hot stove or oven increases the indoor temperature.
  7. Exhaust fans in bathrooms can vent warm air from your home, especially after a hot shower.
  8. Get rid of incandescent lights that generate a lot of heat and put in LED bulbs, which produce very little heat while using far less electricity.
  9. During the hottest parts of the day, spend time at the library, mall, or movie theater. These places are great cooling centers for the community.

To save energy and money, remember to turn off fans when no one is in a room. Fans directly cool people, not empty spaces!

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.

Wind Power Winning the Day for Electricity Users

Did you know that wind power is actually considered a type of solar power by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)? Wind farm - with logo

In an explanation of how wind turbines work, the DOE points out that winds are caused by the heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the rotation of the Earth, and the Earth’s surface irregularities. Maybe we can add “earth spin power” to our list of renewable energy sources.

At SVP we have the potential use of almost 200 megawatts (MW) of peak wind power for our customers. The actual amount utilized at any one time usually depends on when and where the wind is blowing. As of Dec. 31, 2015, California had 6,108 megawatts (MW) of wind power potential, according to the DOE. The DOE states there are 74,472 megawatts of wind power capable of being generated overall in the U.S.

Wind power is here to stay, and for good reason.

So how does wind add up? The advantages as well as the challenges associated with wind power include:

  • It’s a green renewable energy source. Turbines don’t emit atmospheric pollutants.
  • It’s sustainable. As long as the sun shines and the wind blows, power can be harnessed and distributed to the grid.
  • Wind turbines can be built on existing farms or ranches. Some of the best wind farm sites are in rural areas. Since wind turbines use very little land, farmers and ranchers can continue working their land while at the same time earning extra income from renting their land to power companies.
  • Wind helps the economy and creates jobs. U.S. wind power projects in 2014 employed more than 73,000 workers and resulted in more than $8 billion of private capital entering the economy, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The DOE’s Wind Vision Report says by 2050, wind power might support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and support services.

There are also challenges for wind power.

Other sources of electricity can be cheaper than wind power. Some fossil-fueled generation sources can sometimes provide electricity more cheaply than wind farms. Also, the initial investment for wind power technology is higher than the investment needed for conventional resources.

  • Rural sites are good for wind but they can be far from populations needing the electricity. This requires transmission lines to deliver the power from a remote location.
  • A wind farm development might not be the most profitable use of the land. Other types of development not related to power generation may be more profitable for owners of land suitable for a wind project.
  • Turbines might cause noise and aesthetic pollution. Concern exists over the noise produced by the turbine blades and visual impacts to the landscape.
  • Turbine blades could damage local wildlife. There is concern about turbine blades killing and injuring birds. The Audubon Society has long supported wind power while encouraging new wind farm location parameters and continued improvement in pole design. Slower turbines, improved monitoring of bird behavior and flight paths, and sensitivity to bird migration routes have all played a role in reducing impacts of wind turbines on birds. In fact, a good portion of turbines are shut down for two months during the bird migration season at Altamont Pass, where we are also working toward replacing the smaller, faster-spinning small turbines with new large units.