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Opinion: It's time to talk about switching to electric

Original post made on Feb 3, 2023

While some may feel that Palo Alto's reputation as an environmental leader has dimmed somewhat in the past few years, the city is now again in the forefront of cities moving into the electrification era.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 3, 2023, 7:28 AM

Comments (30)

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2023 at 9:00 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Let's not talk about this until our electricity service is more reliable. It seems that on an almost weekly basis, somewhere in Palo Alto loses power due to branches falling even in sunny weather, critters of the running or flying type, balloons of the helium type, cars crashing into poles, or a lightning strike!

With the number of residences rising, the move towards electric vehicles and the additonal calls on our electric power being reliable increasing due to working from home and home businesses, we cannot call our power meaning a few hours of the inconvenience of being in the dark.

First the utilities must be able to assure us that they can cope with the increased demands of us as consumers being able to rely on the amount of power we need and secondly the utilities must get the lines underground to protect them and our supply from the damage that causes all our power outages. The maintenance costs and overtime costs each time it rains must be a drain on their budgets, so when our lines are underground they will save money from these.

Our utilities bill has basically doubled in recent months. Don't force us to spend even more money changing our routines for a service that is inefficient and unreliable.

Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 3, 2023 at 10:38 am

Neal is a registered user.

I have no intention of going all electric. My house is 99 years old with 100 amp service that is stretched to the max. Upgrading my service to 200 amps is quite expensive. Then add the cost of a heat pump, electric furnaces and electric stove. My wife and I won't be around long enough to realize the benefits. And last but not least, a developer will soon buy this house and demolish it, thereby negating any long term benefit. Then the developer can go all electric.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 3, 2023 at 10:39 am

Online Name is a registered user.

What a farce. Maybe if the city stopped virtue-signalling and started providing reliable electric service by undergrounding they might have some basis for their argument. Until then, let's table the discussion.

Instead of being in "the forefront" how about being in the present and providing cost-effective utility services that don't bankrupt us?? (Checked YOUR bills lately??)

Neighboring cities like San Carlos have already rejected this forced conversion. We should, too.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 3, 2023 at 11:08 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

The water heater pilot program is a great idea. However, it seems that any remodeling costs to provide electrical power to the heater and/or access to outdoor air as the source of heat will not be included. In older houses like ours, those costs could run $20,000 or more. I hope such burdensome costs will not be forced on residents, or we may end up with people turning to arguably carbon-neutral wood burning for heat.

Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2023 at 11:08 am

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The State of California in the summer time frequently asks residents not to use appliances during the day and to keep air conditioning on the high side because the electric grid will shut down. Why all electric until the State can get more electric power???

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 3, 2023 at 11:13 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Most people do not understand where electricity comes from. In C. J. Box's book "Below Zero" in the state of Wyoming is a giant elecricity generator which requires 24/7 trains filled with coal to create steam which drives giant turbines. They are creating electricity which is then driven down to substations which feed the upper US in that region. The state of Utah is mining coal which they are selling to China. They wanted to bring that coal down to the Port of Oakland via train to ship out. That is still an argument which keeps surfacing.

Electricity via batteries? Your President just shut off mining the minerals needed to make the batteries. Geo thermal-we ride between drought and overflow - and now they cannot manage the overflow.

Kimberely Strassel in the WSJ wrote an opinion "The Campaign to Ban Gas Stoves."The people behind this are not scientist looking out for your health.

Palo Alto is not an "environmental leader", never has been. Bottom line is that the US does not have the capability now to convert to 100% electricity because the infrastructure to create that is not there. the US keeps running on hype with nothing to back it up. It lost that battle when it turned 100% power efficiency on it's head by shutting down the pipeline. Quit digging us into the rabbit hole any further. Our utility bill just trippled in cost.

Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2023 at 11:24 am

Roy M is a registered user.

The article doesn't mention the costs while some of the commenters talk about not wanting to pay the costs, so allow me to put in numbers. I am building an all-electric ADU which will be connected to the same power as my main house. My electrician determined that I need to increase my power capacity just to cover the additional needs of the ADU. I do not plan to switch out my gas appliances in my main house at this time nor do I have an electric car, both of which will trigger the need of many residents to upgrade their power capacity in the future.

As for the costs, I am paying my electrician more than $10K for the work including buying a new power box. By the way, the lead time on new boxes is at least 6 months. There are also permit fees, but they are a fraction of the cost of the work.

In addition, the city determined that the transformer on my block does not have enough capacity for my increased needs, so they need to split the transformer to install additional capacity. The city has sent me a bill of $11K for this work even though it would have been required eventually for everyone's future electric cars and switch to electric appliances. The city has told me that I am not alone in this.

So, at present, the city does not have enough capacity for its needs, and I am guessing many homeowners can't afford to spend the thousands of dollars needed for the upgrade.

Please note that I am not arguing on either side of the should we electrify debate. Rather, my goal is that we understand all the costs of electrification so that we can have the debate in terms that people can understand. I would like the city to specifically address how they will increase capacity and how they will pay for it. Will the city offer incentives or rebates to homeowners to upgrade their electrical capacity?

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 3, 2023 at 11:48 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

On a related topic, it may actually make sense for some to switch TO a gas stove from electric. I was surprised to find that half (50A!) of our 100A electrical service is allocated to our electric stove. Fifty years ago, the existing gas stove was changed to electric, but the gas supply and exhaust vent are still in place. Changing our old electric stove to a new gas stove would free up that electric panel capacity for e.g. an electric car charger, without the tens of thousands of dollars to (try to) get our electric service upgraded.

Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2023 at 1:14 pm

staying home is a registered user.

I am for the electrification of Palo Alto, but as many other commenters noted, the distribution grid will need to be updated. Solar and EV alone present enormous challenges to smaller utilities, and I haven't' seen anything from PA utilities to show they are addressing these issues. I can't believe the city was allowed to continue taking utility revenues for the general fund. Voters approved it, so no one to blame but ourselves.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 3, 2023 at 3:34 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

About a year ago Diana Diamond published several blogs here noting all the questions she'd submitted to CPAU and other city staffers about how and if they were preparing to deal with increased demand for electricity given the mandates. She finally ended up publishing all the NON-answers she got.

Maybe it's time to do a followup on the city's readiness.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2023 at 6:46 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Speaking of False Claims Act gimme's (in an article nearby), I think there's one in the CPAU direct install program. I will leave it to those with the time and a magnifying glass to find the buried treasure. Gas, grass, or booty, nobody rides for free. As the saying goes.

My great grandparents lived without power and running water until 1942. And then, only because they moved to CA, where there was running water. They didn't graduate to electricity AND running water until they moved again in the 1950's. The old wood stove was the only heat they ever had during hard freezes in Oklahoma. And 10 bodies sleeping in one bedroom, accessible by ladder. I think we have become pretty spoiled and dependent on external sources for heat and cooking. I have thru-hiked several locales with nothing but matches and hope. And when they provided nothing, I ate cold trail mix and put all my clothes on and slept. Even having trail mix is spoiled. I never speared a squirrel and cooked it over an open fire. My great grandmother waded into the river and fished with her hands. My great grandparents did this and their kids did this and they all lived into their 90's. Maybe we're doing something wrong.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 3, 2023 at 6:50 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Online, one thing that the utility staff has been clear about is that staffing shortages are a big problem for the electric utility. There is a lot of competition for those people and other utilities have been paying more and presumably can offer more affordable housing nearby.

The recently-released quarterly report with a status update can be found here: Web Link

You might look at Section 1.2 "Capital Improvement Plan Status" on page 6. You can see the impact of the staffing shortage.

Regarding the Plan itself, there is a lot of info in the city's budget proposal: Web Link

See pages 314+ of the pdf (pages 287+ of the document).

I haven't read that though (yet?).

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 3, 2023 at 7:58 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Thanks, If they're too understaffed to ensure reliable electricity, why are they so insistent on pushingus to use more of their resources all theprojects related to electrification? And why is CPAU even thinking of taking on Fiber to The Home where they have to compete with huge companies?

Re the budget, how about the city's $40,000,000 budget surplus they didn't want to publicize before we voted on the 2 tax measures including giving CPAU the right to CONTINUE to overcharge us? It's the height of irony that this "understaffed" department is now administering loans / financing to those of us who can't afford the outrageous rate hikes, including singles making $60K and couples making $70L a year!

Just curious, what's the average income for seniors on Social Security?

But hey, we've been advised to go warm up at the libraries during "normal" hour. See also Marie Antoinette "Let them freeze at night.:

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2023 at 8:53 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

You're getting warmer, @Online Name. And I ain't just talking about the weather!

One website says people on SS get $1,676.53. But I can't really trust that because they always round down to the nearest dollar. Seein's how it's just an average I can see how it would have some cents.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 4, 2023 at 9:47 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

The author of the opinion piece does not have an engineering background to understand the how's and why's on the projections on how we will supply massive electricity. Just projects a rosy picture that it will happen based on newer technology. Not to worry.

The SC County Water people drained the Anderson Dam because they said there was an earthquake fault underneath it. That same fault is underneath their desired new dam in the same area. People in Government Activist groups keep pushing an agenda using any form of hype that fits. Push an idea - get published - keep pushing the hype.

Many first generation people in government are solving a problem that belongs to another country they were fleeing. DHS Mayorkas came to the US as a 1 year old with parents fleeing Cuba. He thinks the handling of the border is just fine. No - not fine for anyone involved.

The US taxpayer wants common sense in the running of the country. If business keeps farming out the jobs to other countries that all of the new people could do it would work. All of the empty wharehouses on the east coast would have people working.

Drive down I-5 - empty fields that used to have trees, plants and animals. Lack of water and other political agendas are closing that California noted opportunity for good living and feeding the world.

If nohing else please do not use the City of Palo Alto as an example of a leader setting an example. That is the worst type of hype ever. Our Governor does that - not working.

Posted by BGordon
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2023 at 1:37 pm

BGordon is a registered user.

It is usually not a good idea to put “all your eggs in one basket”. Before eliminating all hydrocarbons from our energy portfolio, we need to make our electric power infrastructure more resilient. In our area, we are very vulnerable to natural disasters, sabotage, and war. When the electricity is out and the water treatment plant is not working, it is nice to be able to boil water.

Posted by Peter Davis
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2023 at 6:42 pm

Peter Davis is a registered user.

I think the water heater project described in this article is *fantastic* and quite beneficial for the grid, contrary to some of the other commenters. Solar power floods the grid in the afternoon and can cause some problems, but these heat pump water heaters can be programmed to heat up then and will retain their heat all day and night. If you have your own solar panels, it's a huge cost saver, and if you have CPAU, you're doing them a big favor by taking excess electricity off the grid. These water heaters do not add extra burden to the grid in the late afternoon, and so have no impact on power reliability.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 5, 2023 at 8:09 am

Annette is a registered user.

I always like what Sherry Listgarten has to say and today I am appreciating her comments about housing. For many years now there has been a steady but ignored plea to stem commercial development by those concerned about the dearth of housing for people with community-serving jobs and the erosion of this city's diversity. The concerns were ignored. Until the office cap, development-friendly Councils essentially turned on a green light for commercial development, making Palo Alto jobs-rich and teeing us up for the impossibly high RHNA housing requirement. And now we have the State making housing easier to build, but not in ways that tackle the core problem: affordability. Since history cannot be changed and we are stuck dealing with the problems we created, maybe we can at least learn from history and not repeat past problems, making our situation even worse.

Many of the new laws about housing need to be challenged b/c they are at odds with reality, smart growth, and our climate objectives. And we voters need to have the courage to vote OUT legislators who support legislation that purports to do one thing but ultimately does harm.

Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2023 at 11:33 am

Tom is a registered user.

In the comments I see writers' angst that can be logically addressed by having the program select some of the new 120V plug-in heat pump water heaters and sizing the tanks one size larger. These don't need electrical upgrades or electric permits since they just plug into a regular outlet. These leave room on the panel and grid for more electrification, since each one only uses about 500 Watts. And they can provide hot water across 12 hour electric outages. I hear that the demonstration project sponsored by other utilities is having many satisfied customers. Web Link

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 5, 2023 at 5:30 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

In the SJM News series "Car Talk" is the subject of the battery in your electric car. It uses earth metals - lithum, cobalt and nickel. All highly expensive ingredients in a battery. All of those metals require highly expensive mining techniques. This is the next big bucks for the EV industry. The mining and manufacture is just as toxic as the perceived processesing of fossil fuels. Your President has closed down the US location where those metals exist. That means they are going to buy from foreign countries - China at the top of the list. We are now also buying petroleum from foreign countries - and it is not as clean as we can produce - too much sulfer content.

They keep talking about the back end of this "idea" and avoid the front end - where and how are all of our options coming from and how are those options produced - and where produced. And our oil reserve has been sold in part to China.
All of those issues need to be discussed before any city in the US goes down the Rabbit Hole concocted by your local, state, and US government.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 7, 2023 at 12:12 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

Re: " the new 120V plug-in heat pump water heaters and sizing the tanks one size larger. These don't need electrical upgrades or electric permits since they just plug into a regular outlet."

Our gas-fired water heater doesn't have an electrical outlet, so we would need a new circuit installed, which would at least require a new panel as ours is already fully stuffed. Upgrades and permits, oh my! We would also require remodeling to (a) physically fit the larger hpwh in the laundry room and (b) give it access to outside air as the source of heat. That's where the tens of thousands of dollars of costs come in.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 7, 2023 at 9:53 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Mondoman: Just FYI, the 120V model with HydroBoost just needs an outlet, not a dedicated circuit: Web Link

As Tom says, it would be great if the city program includes these. I'm not sure what the plans are.

Regarding having a full panel, there are two ways that a panel can be full -- no physical room (slots) and no electrical room (your meter is running at capacity). The former is pretty easy to fix, and the latter is pretty rare. But it's also almost impossible for us Palo Altans to know the latter because we don't have smart meters. I wrote some about electric panels here: Web Link In general most homes have a lot of spare electrical capacity, even if their panel "looks" full.

My electrician was laughing because he said in many cases, if people just switched a few bulbs to LEDs, they'd have all the room they need.

If you are so inclined, it's really fun to get a circuit monitor and see how much electricity you are actually using. Check out They are inexpensive and you can install one yourself. I suggest this only because you seem pretty curious, so maybe you'd like this.

With regard to tank size, they do give the diameter and height of the tanks on page two of that spec sheet I linked to. I worry here mostly about people with tankless water heaters but ymmv. Every home is different.

Thanks for staying curious about this!

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 7, 2023 at 5:13 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Sherry - the spec sheet in your link is indeed very informative about all the dimensions, venting, etc -- thanks, very interesting! Sadly, we don't even have a normal electrical outlet at the water heater, hence the big cost for installing (to current Code) a new circuit. We'd also have to move a wall or two or bump out the side of the house.

I did notice the 37F low temperature limit; does that mean that if the temp of the source air is under 37F it relies on resistive heating to warm the water? It seems otherwise a bit Rube Goldbergy to have a furnace heat up the interior of the house just to indirectly supply the hpwh with a heat source.

Again, these are not issues that a house renovated/built within the past few decades should have, just older homes.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 7, 2023 at 5:23 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Sherry The circuit monitor looks like a great idea to pin down our actual usage, as you suggest. I think installing one on our older panel may involve exposing live service cables, so perhaps getting an electrician to do it makes sense. Having prepackaged monitor and installation packages might be something the City could offer to help residents learn if they already have de facto capacity for e.g. EV chargers or other electrification.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2023 at 5:38 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

I am curious as to how PA intends to handle the surge (no pun intended) of public chargers when they City allows MFD's to be built with (1) Not enough parking and (2) not enough chargers for the few who will get dedicated parking. We are never going to get away from one car per resident in my lifetime. It doesn't make sense to convert a water heater to electric in a SFH while still driving a gas guzzler. The cost is too high for a hot water heater and the added expense of having a certified electrician convert the circuitry to meet the demand WITHOUT also implementing a car charger in that plan. It needs to be a two-for-one deal with permitting AND contractor fees.

With the city plan of adding 6000+ rental units, the lack of parking tries to blur the fact that the city is failing to add 6000+ chargers in order to meet their carbon goals. And how far is a renter supposed to be willing to walk home from the charger? Even fast chargers have a wait time. Either wait, or walk away. Too many calculations as to what kind of car to buy to match what kind of driving you do. City is not thinking past their nose on this issue. Carbon neutrality is not solely the responsibility of single family homeowners. If the city wants everyone to buy an electric car the city needs to provide convenient chargers. Borrow from the "fiber" fund.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 7, 2023 at 8:31 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Mondoman: Adding an outlet is normally trivial. The Palo Alto program includes adding a whole circuit with a disconnect and a 240V outlet. So maybe your house has something really weird going on, like an electrical system that is so far out of code you can't even add one normal grounded outlet. Then, yeah, maybe you shouldn't be electrifying (!)

Also, yeah, if you have to move walls and expand your foundation to accommodate a tank water heater, then it's not worth it (!) You should have the city's genie person come by so they can see what an impossible conversion looks like. Bummer that you can't take advantage of the great rebate though.

There is no resistance element in these heaters (hence the 120V) and so they do not work if it's too cold. These 120V water heaters are sold only in parts of California where it's not cold. They are not sold in any other state. Rheem is doing this because CA really wanted a simpler solution.

Yeah, I love circuit monitors. Maybe the genie will offer to install them, though I am sure your panel is far too dangerous for anyone to want to touch.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 8, 2023 at 10:32 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Sherry " I am sure your panel is far too dangerous for anyone to want to touch."
Well, full and 50 years old, so certainly I don't want to touch it :) . Our wiring is all 2 prong ungrounded, and the panel is full even with double-stuffing (tandem) breakers, hence the big expense to add anything. Given the various electrical and weather-related performance issues, I think you are exactly right that one should get an expert to do a big-picture evaluation and I hope the city will really emphasize and publicize that as part of the pilot program.

I wouldn't be surprised if 1 in 5 houses in our area (the development was built in the early 1950s) haven't been upgraded electrically since the mid 60s. Maybe the city can look through their permitting records and get an idea of how common this is. I expect such houses will be the most difficult to electrify.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 8, 2023 at 10:47 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Sherry Just wanted to say "thanks" for all the real-world info and research you post in your blog, here and elsewhere. Your efforts are a real boon to our community.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 8, 2023 at 1:13 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Mondoman, those are great points, and we really need to know more about the condition and layouts of the city's housing stock. I used to live in a little house in Palo Alto, on Emerson, with glass fuses in the panel. Electricians would blanch when they saw that thing. Until two years ago, the house across the street from me had an old 60-amp panel. How many houses are like that?

I like the idea of the city looking through permits to get a sense. And hopefully people will sign up for the program and the city can get feedback that way too. I hope you have a great discussion with the genie :)

Posted by marc665
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2023 at 3:33 pm

marc665 is a registered user.

Why doesn't the Utilities department already know what type of service everyone has? The meter readers look at the panels every time they read the electric meter. Almost every house around here has external load panels.


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