An election year brings with it a tide of politicking. In 2022, as the election crept closer, the noise of that politicking grew to a cacophony. On the Santa Clara City Council, mudslinging, personal vendettas, finger-pointing, name-calling and accusations dominated meetings. In the months leading up to the race, it is common that little City business gets done.
Last year was no exception.
Meanwhile, the unsung heroes of the City — those who are not elected — go about the quiet business of making the City run. They do the work that is easy to take for granted. They haul the garbage. They keep the buses running on time. They ensure the sewers are working. They repair the streets.
Earlier this month, when rainstorms inundated the area, Silicon Valley Power (SVP) kept the lights on. Touting rates that are less than half of PG&E, the local power company takes great pride in its work. At a high level, its success has fueled plans for a massive expansion in the upcoming decade to meet demand as Santa Clara grows.
But the boots-on-the-ground workers stay focused on the day-to-day. During the most recent spate of rain, employees worked behind the scenes preparing for the storms to maintain the first-rate service to which Santa Clarans have grown accustomed.
Chris Karwick, assistant director of utility operations, said SVP started tracking the storms in mid-to-late December. Preparation is essential to dealing with inclement weather. The first order of business is labor. Karwick and his peers begin to examine who is available to ensure SVP is agile enough to respond to issues quickly.
“We want to make sure we don’t put everybody out to work…so the entire department isn’t out on a rest period,” he said.
With “not a lot of fat to cut,” Karwick said every position becomes “critical.” Control room operators are onsite around the clock to monitor the electrical system. Construction crews are on standby to deal with any transmission or distribution disruptions. An inventory of the necessary personal protective equipment made sure workers were protected and armed with the tools they needed for fast and effective troubleshooting.
The pandemic has thrown another wrench in the gears, making it difficult to hire power line workers. Still, Kevin Kolnowski, SVP’s electric utility chief operating officer, said SVP has had “good luck” in hiring such workers despite the shortage.
During such a storm, trees are a big issue. Water makes them heavy and the wind whips them furiously, which causes branches to break, occasionally snapping power lines. The length of the onslaught worried Karwick and Kolnowski.
But again, preparation and coordination were key. Santa Clara conducts “aggressive” tree trimming year round, Karwick said, and had its contractor, Davey’s Tree Surgery, at the ready to be onsite within 30 minutes.
Because limbs breaking is “tough to plan for,” it is almost impossible to eliminate trees causing outages, Kolnowski said. So, minimizing outages from other issues becomes all the more important. Trees caused the only outages during the most recent rain storms.
“We did quite well,” Karwick said. “Didn’t have any weak points … the proof is in the pudding.”
Sometimes, he said, having so much information is a detriment, leaving crews preparing for something that never occurs or occurs later than anticipated, tying up resources. Kolnowski added that it is sometimes difficult to avoid being trapped by “hindsight thinking.”
At the end of each winter, the SVP brass and engineers take a deep dive, analyzing SVP’s outages on a monthly basis to improve for the following year. So, while politicians do what politicians do, Santa Clarans can rest easy that the SVP team will keep electricity flowing to their bedside lamp to read all about it in their local paper.