That’s the question I’ve been asking several city officials.
Their answers: We’re working on it. We are evaluating it. We will have a report out in a couple of months or so.
Discouraging to say the least. If the demand for more electricity overpowers the city’s capabilities to provide more, then we will have to figure out what to do. The city utilities department is studying how to plan for increased demand -- at least from last spring. But no report yet.
The following is a brief (and paraphrased) summary of a conversation I recently had with
Catherine Elvert, the Utility Department’s spokesperson. She is very careful about what she states, but I guess that is her job. Nevertheless, it was hard to pin her down or get any specific numbers. I prefer more specific numbers.
D –The Utilities Department staff is preparing a report. When will the Utilities Commission, the City Council and the residents will we see such a report?
E -- When we have completed our report.
D -- And when will that be?
E -- Later this year, I think.
D --There seem to be two major distribution questions, which the Utilities Advisory Commission raised early this year. Are our transmission lines adequate to handle an increased load and do our transformers need to be upgraded so they can adequately carry an increased customer demand for electricity.
E -- We are looking into it.
D -- If we have upgrades, how much will that cost?
E --We are looking into it and whether we will include those numbers in our report. But we plan to get the numbers, although we don’t have any yet.
D --And when, again, will the report be ready and sent to council?
E --We are figuring out a date.
D -- Any estimations of cost?
E --We have to evaluate that and we will know after the report is completed.
D -- In the millions or billions?
E – We are evaluating that.
I am concerned because the city is urging, urging us to have all-electric homes and purchase all-electric cars. The push is really focusing right now for heat pump water heaters instead of gas water heaters.
The way I see it, if our electric use scoots up, and our equipment cannot handle a big increase in demand, we have a big problem. We know from our four recent blackouts how many of us were affected by no electricity – for short and long periods.
I also have to wonder how much urgency is attached to getting a report back to the council – and to us. And a report is not a solution, it’s just a start on what to do next.
Cost should be a big concern, since the city council now is active in deciding whether Palo
Alto should provide Fiber to the Home (FTTH) (also known as Fiber to the Premises [FTTP) for all residents who sign up for it (at an estimated $40/month). The total cost to install fiber is an estimated $140 million, ($40 million higher than originally estimated a year ago – and all this before a shovelful of dirt has been removed. I predict double or triple the estimated costs
I had a nice discussion with A.C. Johnston, chairman of the Utilities Advisory Commission, who quickly acknowledged the city staff is “studying the issue” of available electricity if demand increases.
I pointed out the city is on a big campaign to go electric, suggesting we all get rid of out gas water heaters and replace them with electric ones. Also, our utility bills are filled with info advocating purchase of electric cars. “If the (all-electric) campaign is successful, and if the city decides to pursue both -- an improvement in our transmission. lines and transformers, as well as FTTH,” he said, “we are talking about real issues -- the capacity and distribution will have to increase. Your concerns are reasonable,” Johnston added.
Johnston said he expected a staff report in the next couple of months
So how can the city (that’s US!) afford to pay for both FTTH and upgrade our transmission lines and transformers, because the latter will probably cost a similar amount. If I were a council member, I would vote for only upgrading our electric transmitters and transformers before even offering FTTH, which AT&T and Comcast are already ready providing, and they know what they are doing. Plus, our staff has little experience in overseeing a FTTH service.
The city, by the way, has a self-interest in going all-electric; our use will increase, bringing more money into the city treasury. The city also acknowledges that if enough people sign up for FTTH, they will get monthly payments from residents year after year. And the more electric we use, our tier-rate costs go up.
Follow the money.
Of course, I understand that to help control climate, electricity uses far less fossil fuel than gas, and will help us become less dependent on fossil fuels, which is a great thing. But we do have to analyze costs v. benefits – not all of us are rich. Is FTTH worth the cost? Many in this town are retired and on fixed incomes, and right now the stock market has precipitously dropped.
I would like some concrete dates and data from staff – and have the council set deadlines. We have an emerging crisis on hand. As the city keeps pushing to go all-electric, our commission has worries about whether the city can handle a big demand. It would also have to hire consultants and contractors – and we all know that costs a lot.
We all need to know and plan accordingly. Why is it good to change one’s heating, water heaters, and purchase EV vehicles (which collectively can easily come to five—or even six-digit expenses). I certainly don’t want us to convert to all -electric and then run short of ways to get that electricity to our homes. Do you?