Friday, May 11, 2007

Stadium vs. Rolling blackouts?

Silicon Valley Power, Santa Clara's non-profit power company, is one of the best electric utilities in the nation. Thanks to SVP we had reliable power for a fair price while the rest of California was reeling from rolling blackouts.

Breaking SVP's piggy bank to subsidize a stadium will weaken SVP's financials. This will benefit very few people, many of whom will be out-ot-towners. At the same time, it will expose all Santa Clarans to the wild ups-and-downs of the energy market that PG&E customers had to endure.

The day the music died

Back in 2000, most Californians saw their electricity bills doubled. But even paying through the nose was no guarantee for reliable service. On June 14, 2000, when temperatures in San Francisco reached 103 degrees, the power went out for 97,000 people in the Bay Area. They were victims of the largest planned blackout since World War II. These rolling blackouts continued right on through the following summer. In fact, they spread state-wide.

If you lived in Santa Clara at the time, you'll remember that we were spared the worst of the electricity crisis. Part of the credit goes to voluntary conservation. However, the overwhelming reason why we did OK is because our city has its own electric utility.

According to Metro, SVP is so well managed that big businesses go out of their way to buy electrons from our wee little power company:
"Their service is so good, we paid to extend their network," says Mike Brozda, a spokesman with National Semiconductor, whose plant sits in both Sunnyvale and Santa Clara. Rather than split the building's power between PG&E and Silicon Valley Power, the company extended Santa Clara's power lines into Sunnyvale at its own expense. (Metro, May 20-26, 1999.)

It's called a "reserve" fund for a good reason

A key part of any well-run business is having good contingency planning. Good planning dictates you save money for a rainy day. Having something to fall back on makes it easier to deal with unexpected situations. By having a healthy reserve fund, SVP is able to maintain its power plants properly, absorb the cost spikes, and last but not least, insulate its customers from crooked energy traders.

(Remember the recording of 2 Enron traders joking to each other about stealing from poor grandmothers? It's at 22 seconds in from the beginning of this video.)

Local power is a good thing

Santa Clara is one of only 3 cities in the Bay Area with their own electric utilities. Our electric rates are "on average 35 percent less than" that of our neighbors on PG&E, and our electricity is more reliable to boot. Why should we jeopardize all that to build a ballpark that will sit empty 9 out of 10 days?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This said it all!

I didn't realize what a stabilizing effect the City Utility really provides when I first moved to Santa Clara. But I learned to appreciate it more and more: I saw
the "Enron Blackouts" on TV - a TV I could still watch simply due to the fact that it was connected to a local grid belonging to the City of Santa Clara.

To raid that Utility Reserve Fund, the Council will have to force a change to the City Charter - and to do that, they will have to come to us.

If the Council thinks that they can circumvent this, then let my signature on a recall petition for at least five of the regular six seats be the second signature - just after Ms. Hardy's...

I'll remember to thank my City Utility when August rolls around - when we've got the central air running full blast, and Californians demand another 50,000 Megawatts out of the statewide grid...