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Great America Writes Another Chapter in Santa Clara’s Green Energy History

Over the years, Santa Clara’s purchase of the land under Great America theme park in the 1980s has benefitted the City in many ways beyond the initial goal of preserving a recreational asset from becoming another parcel of non-descript, late 20th century suburban office buildings.

As well as an important tourist attraction boosting sales tax revenue, with Levi’s Stadium next door, Great America is a cornerstone of a Northside entertainment district that’s starting to take shape.

Now the Cedar Faire-owned amusement park is boosting the city-owned electric company Silicon Valley Power’s (SVP) green power trajectory and providing further proof that 100 percent green power is a realistic choice for big businesses.

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Last month Great America joined Santa Clara Green Power, a renewable energy program that gives Santa Clara residents and businesses the choice of purchasing 100 percent solar and wind energy.

“California’s Great America is proud to partner with Silicon Valley Power and is committed to doing its part to better the environment,” said California’s Great America Vice President and General Manager Raul Rehnborg in a news release. “It is important for us to reduce our carbon footprint and join the growing number of local businesses that embrace the importance of renewable energy.”

Great America’s commitment to 12,810 megawatt-hours (MWh) of wind power makes it one of SVP’s largest renewable energy purchasers. The purchase roughly equals the output of four large-scale wind turbines. And it reduces Great America’s carbon footprint annually by more than seven million pounds of carbon dioxide.

Great America joins more than 70 SVP business and 4,000 residential customers that have signed up for 100 percent renewable energy through the program. That number includes the City of Santa Clara, Intel, Applied Materials and Santa Clara University.

“Instead of buying a little green power, Great America decided to buy a lot,” said Larry Owens, SVP Senior Division Manager of Customer Services.

Of the EPA’s top 100 green power users, three–Intel, Apple and Applied materials–are SVP customers. Intel is the EPA’s number one renewable energy user, buying 3.5 million MWh annually (SVP is only one of the venders providing energy for Intel sites).

Santa Clara is also No. 5 in the EPA’s list of 100 top green power communities by usage (333,120 MWh) and No. 37 in terms of percentage of power needs met by green power–10.4 percent, which puts Santa Clara ahead of Portland, OR; Cleveland, OH; and Philadelphia, PA. SVP was named a 2015 Green Power Supplier of the Year. (www.epa.gov).

“We are thrilled about Great America’s participation in Santa Clara Green Power,” said SVP’s Owens in the news release. “Their renewable energy commitment will place them among the top echelon of Silicon Valley’s environmental leaders and make it the first Northern California amusement park of its kind to choose 100 percent renewable energy.”

Tracking Green Power

Electricity from all sources travels on a single grid. But the renewable energy registry and tracking system, Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System (WREGIS), assures customers that the electricity they’re using comes from renewable sources.

WREGIS tracks electricity entering the grid from certified renewable power plants–for example wind farms, hydro-electric dams, solar parks, biogas power plants–as megawatt hour credits called Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). Utilities buy these certificates from brokers, and the MWh credits are added to the utility’s account.

SVP allocates the MWh credits to specific customers based on the percentage of green power the customer has signed up for, explained Owens. “This is an opportunity for customers to have 100 percent renewable power allocated to them.”

WREGIS was the result of a 2002 law passed by the California state legislature mandating that by 2010, 20 percent of California’s electricity had to come from renewable sources. In 2008 former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger increased the goal to 33 percent by 2020. Gov. Jerry Brown further increased it to 50 percent by 2030.

Today’s Green Power Advantage Owes Debt to Past Vision and Investment

The intertwined paths to Santa Clara’s becoming a generator of power and a leading green power distributor were pioneered in the 1960s.

That was when the City, under the leadership of the legendary team of former City Manager Don Von Raesfeld and former Mayor Gary Gillmor, successfully lobbied the federal government to allocate a share of the Central Valley Project hydro-power–one of the monumental 1930s WPA dam projects–to Santa Clara’s publicly-owned electric utility.

In June 1968, Santa Clara and 11 other municipalities formed the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) to “make more efficient the use of the powers of the individual member agencies in the purchase generation, transmission, distribution, sale, interchange and pooling of electrical energy and capacity.”

Santa Clara’s support of the NCPA was extensive–providing personnel, office space and the first NCPA director, Norman Ingraham, the retired Electric Superintendent.

In the 1970s the NCPA began developing generation capabilities that would not depend on imported oil and would, as much possible, have stable operating costs.

Don Von Raesfeld and local historian Mary Hanel contributed to this story.

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