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Silicon Valley Power Points

With a winter of El Nino storms forecast, it’s reassuring to know that Silicon Valley Power (SVP), Santa Clara’s city-owned, nonprofit electrical utility, is proactive in minimizing power disruptions, whether due to weather or other emergencies. SVP implements on-going infrastructure improvements, and by design, under-loads city power circuits.

“Our fundamental design criteria is to only load a circuit to one-half of its capability so that when an outage occurs, SVP can quickly switch everyone in the outage to another circuit without the threat of overloading it,” explains SVP Customer Services Manager Larry Owens in an email.

“That is a significant reason why customers see shorter outages in Santa Clara than in other utilities, and our overall reliability is one of the best in the nation. A resilient system design and regular upgrading is the best defense against long-duration, widespread outages in a storm,” continues Owens.


Of the 26 power outages in sections of Santa Clara in 2015 between January 1 and December 24, weather accounted for only one outage. Other causes were: a car hitting a power pole (1), human error (1), tree related (2), Mylar balloons (2), cause not found (5), animal contact (6) and equipment failure (8).

SVP owns and maintains over 50 miles of electrical power transmission lines and 185 miles of distribution lines for a total of 235 miles of overhead lines. These electric power lines degrade over time for various reasons, including corrosion, and need to be replaced. This replacement is called reconductoring, and other types of maintenance are done at the same time.

As part of SVP’s system upgrading, the reconductoring of the final segment of a two-mile length of a major power line loop was 90 percent completed in 2015. This reliability enhancement project was stopped due to a delay in the shipment of the newly-designed ACCR Conductor by 3M that is being used. The final segment of this main power line loop will be reconductored in March or April of 2016.

The ACCR Conductor is lighter than the previous wire, yet has the same capacity and other benefits. Lighter wire means less weight on the power poles and, thus, fewer pole replacements.

“Every infrastructure project is by its very nature designed to maintain or improve resiliency,” states Owens.

In addition to reliability enhancement, increased electricity use can also trigger the need to reconductor, using new wires that can handle the growth.

“SVP is currently experiencing a fairly rapid increase in electric demand; electricity use in Santa Clara has grown over six percent since last year. Normally, electric use grows an average of about one to two percent per year. Business is booming and residents are adding more devices, bigger TVs, game consoles and electric vehicles everyday!” writes Owens, who goes on to make the point that businesses customers pay their own way.

“When a large customer needs more infrastructure to support a large increase in load, they either pay a load development fee or, if big enough, they will require a ‘special facilities’ agreement to cover the costs. The cost burden of these larger customers is not shifted to others,” states Owens.

Of interest to its nearby Santa Clara neighbors, the large Apple campus under construction in Cupertino is not served by SVP. The new business campus is served by PG&E.

“SVP is one of the shining examples of good city management in Santa Clara, and I think we should publicize that more. In fact, many people are drawn to Santa Clara exactly because of the utility rates and city services,” wrote Santa Clara resident John Hull to the Santa Clara Weekly.

For tips on handling a power outage, visit the Silicon Valley Power website:


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