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As more residents go electric, Palo Alto eyes major grid upgrade

Original post made on Jun 8, 2023

If Palo Alto succeeds in reaching -- or even nearing -- its goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, it would have to overcome a steep hurdle: an electric grid that wasn't designed for such lofty ambitions.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 8, 2023, 8:36 AM

Comments (11)

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2023 at 9:26 am

Bystander is a registered user.

So more capacity on those ugly overhanging lines for those of us who have them and no mention of the undergrounding program.

Can this third world system be any worse?

Posted by anon1234
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2023 at 9:35 am

anon1234 is a registered user.

Good luck charging your car in non peak hours ( during the day)
if you live or work in a new building that state laws require to have no onsite parking!?!

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 8, 2023 at 9:51 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"But with more residents increasingly relying on electric appliances and vehicles, the city's grid is already showing signs of strain, including flickering lights and low voltage at some homes. Some transformers are starting to fail, Marshall said."

Remind me again why the city's rushing forward with its forced conversion programs that will only make things worse.

"City plans to spend more than $200M over next seven years to add capacity to OVERHEAD lines, install new transformers..."

And how much will be spent on undergrounding when birds, balloons, falling branches etc. can and do routinely knock out power for thousands of us.

Posted by Barron Park Denizen
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2023 at 10:57 am

Barron Park Denizen is a registered user.

It's striking how the "third world" poles and overhead wiring offer flexibility, facilitating retrofitting of higher-capacity transformers and wiring. Plus offer a route for new fiber.

In contrast, undergrounded facilities are much harder to modify, and multiple new aboveground, and butt-ugly and noisily humming, transformers will be needed in residential areas since the City, for some unstated reason, no longer wants to install below grade units. Maybe the irritating inconvenience caused by the occasional Mylar balloon or fried squirrel is the tradeoff.

Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2023 at 12:17 pm

PST is a registered user.

I would prefer getting everything underground as the top priority. Spending $200,000,000 on above ground “improvements” don’t seem like improvements to me. More like going backwards. Has the city decided to stop the under grounding effort? If so, I missed that news. If so, the northern part of the city once again seems to be benefitting from favoritism.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 8, 2023 at 12:40 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

The city is doing everything possible to shove their costly, unproven and financially risky fiber network down our throats whether or not we want it.

It's absurdly laughable that a "survey" asking us about our fiber preferences A) doesn't allow us to say we DON'T want and, B) solicits advance deposits for it.

Ain't "democracy" and objective "public opinion surveys" great.

Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Jun 8, 2023 at 2:17 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

As Palo Alto Utilities moves to upgrade the local grid and pressure customers to switch to all-electric, we must keep in mind, this will also increase the state's CO2 levels. The Utility has done a great job in purchasing carbon-free electricity, but that is not what it sells to it's customers. The city is connected to the state's grid and that is what we customers use and purchase. The electricity we use in Palo Alto is no different that what Menlo Park and Mt. View use. In 2021, more than 35% of the electricity came from natural gas power plants. There were days in the summer where more than 50% of the electricity came from natural gas power plants. In order to cut back on using natural gas power generation, the state's grid must add low-cost energy storage methods. Companies are working on these low-cost means, but they just not available today. This has to be a high priority plan.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 8, 2023 at 3:25 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

"The city does not install subsurface equipment anymore, "
Why not?

Posted by Chris C.
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 8, 2023 at 7:22 pm

Chris C. is a registered user.

@mondoman: As I understand it, the main reason is water. Much of Palo Alto has standing water not far under the surface, and even with dry ground the soil is clay, which causes surface water to take a while to be absorbed when it rains. As a result, electrical equipment under the surface needs to be able to put up with this wet environment.

...and building and maintaining wires to put up with this water costs a lot more money than building and maintaining above ground wiring. (Above ground wiring fails more often, but when it does it is cheaper and faster to fix it than below ground, so it still comes out ahead.) So, faced with a choice of charging more to pay for higher installation and maintenance costs, or charging customers less, they chose to charge ratepayers less.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 9, 2023 at 12:16 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Chris That makes sense for new undergrounding, but in existing undergrounded neighborhoods the wires will remain underground. Presumably PAU has been setting aside funds or allowances during the 50 years since undergrounding for eventual replacement of the underground transformers.

Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 13, 2023 at 6:52 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

Any discussion what this will do to rates? Headline says $200M and text says "between $220 million and $306 million". That's $30M to $40M per year. Is the plan to build annual costs into the rates or borrow to pay it back over the useful life of the upgrades?

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