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.

Your Local Utility Keeps Your Best Interests in Mind

Having your own local public power company certainly has its advantages. Being the 2015_svp_logo_with_seal_and_tagline_colormunicipal electric utility that only serves the City of Santa Clara makes us operate like a well-run neighborhood family-owned business. We know a lot about what our neighbors expect from their local utility.

For instance, all of us appreciate the benefits of the lowest electricity rates in the state, made possible in part by our constant work to find the best prices when purchasing power for the City. In fact, compared to what electric utility customers paid in neighboring cities, our residential and business customers spent about $100 million less in electric utility bills last year. That’s $100 million that stays in your pockets and in our community.

As a public power utility serving just our City, with our executive offices and service fleet located locally, we can focus on our citywide service area. The commitment to providing personalized service means very high customer satisfaction, according to surveys of our customers by an independent pollster.

Our community seems to be proud of our sponsorships of school and local activities. We provide support to fun events like the Santa Clara Art and Wine Festival and fireworks shows, and we take pride in establishing Santa Clara milestones like the biggest electric vehicle charging center in the area. And, as we modernized our metering technology, we were able to create free outdoor Wi-Fi access throughout most of the city using the metering system’s wireless communication capacity.

The American Public Power Association (APPA), which serves more than 2,000 locally owned utilities like SVP serving over 47 million customers in the U.S., points out additional benefits of public power, such as the boost to a city’s economic development and how the utility is governed by local elected officials who act in the best interests of the community. Our neighborhoods and our business community have a voice about their power. As your local municipal public power utility, we listen.

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.

Beware – Downed Power Lines Can Be Deadly!

Downed power lines are very rare, but they can cause serious injury or death. They usually Downed Power Lineoccur during extreme weather or when a vehicle strikes a power pole. If you see a power line down, call 911 or 408.615.5640 immediately to report the problem.

Our friends at Puget Sound Energy in Washington put together a great video about what to do in the event you are in a car and come across downed power lines. Helpful general safety guidelines about downed lines are provided by the Electrical Safety Foundation Institute:

  • You cannot tell whether or not a power line is energized just by looking at it. You should assume that all downed power lines are live.
  • If you see a downed power line, move away from it and anything touching it. The ground around power lines – up to 35 feet away – may be energized.
  • The proper way to move away from the power line is to shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This will minimize the potential for a strong electric shock.
  • If you see someone who is in direct or indirect contact with the downed line, do not touch the person. You could become the next victim. Call 911 for help.
  • Do not attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it by using an object such as a broom or stick. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth can conduct electricity if even slightly wet.
  • Be careful not to touch or step in water near where a downed power line is located.
  • Do not drive over downed power lines.
  • If your car comes in contact with a downed power line while you are inside, stay in the car. Honk your horn to summon help, but direct others to stay away from your car.
  • If you must leave your car because it is on fire, jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and avoid contact with both the car and the ground at the same time. Shuffle away from the car.

Again, check out the video from Puget Sound Energy and please share this information with others. It can keep them safe!

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.

When the West Coast Went Dark: What We Learned from Massive 1996 Power Outage

On August 10, 1996, a massive power outage struck Western North America, knocking out power in several U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California during a heat wave. In less than two hours, five high voltage power lines came into contact with trees in Oregon and Washington and a domino effect took out dozens of critical power lines as well as large electricity generating units from British Columbia and Alberta in Canada to New Mexico and Baja California. Since the nature of electricity is to flow in the most efficient direction (or path of least resistance), a tree can give it a way to flow straight to ground, interrupting power flow and causing breakers to trip when they sense a problem on the line. One such incident can impact a relatively small area, but a series of outages such as occurred in 1996 is a serious problem.

Power was out from a few minutes to six hours in California, according to a California Energy Commission survey, and the Union of Concerned Scientists says approximately 7.5 million people overall were affected by the power failure. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, those affected were located in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming and Washington, and Mexico’s Baja California.

What we and other utilities learned from this outage is that we need to proactively address hazards. We know that tree limbs cause outages, and we know that old and outdated equipment such as power poles and cross arms can fail. Trimming tree limbs before problems occur has long been part of our ongoing commitment to reliable delivery of electricity.

That’s why we encourage our customers to let us know if they see a branch that appears too close to a power line; we’ll inspect it and trim it if it’s a problem. We’ve also hired a company to accelerate our continuing replacement of power poles and cross arms, many of which are over 40 years old.

This ongoing methodical program of maintenance and system upgrades will continue for a few years, and it will increase our reliability and decrease the possibility of an unexpected power outage that can be inconvenient at best and create dangerous traffic and health facility problems at worst.

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: