Clean Energy Choice Coming to Los Altos

Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View are set to join nine other communities in Santa Clara County in the switch from PG&E-supplied electricity to a new Community Choice Aggregator in April.

Local homeowners, renters and businesses will receive notices in the mail about the new energy provider – Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCEA) – in coming months. Los Altos City Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins served a key role in the formation of SVCEA last March.

“We recognized that this was the single most effective action we could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make significant progress in meeting our Climate Action Plan goal,” she said.

The plan will offer customers two service options: GreenStart comprises a 50 percent renewable and 50 percent hydroelectric energy blend, and GreenPrime offers 100 percent renewable energy that is greenhouse gas-free. GreenStart, the default option, is estimated to be slightly less expensive than previous PG&E service. Customers can choose GreenPrime, which will be slightly more expensive, or opt out of the Community Choice Aggregator and continue to receive their energy from PG&E. That option would give customers a 30 percent renewable and 60 percent carbon-free energy combination.

No matter which option customers select, PG&E will provide their electricity infrastructure and billing services. The undergrounding of electricity infrastructure will continue apace.

According to Don Bray, SVCEA account manager, little will change on the customer side. “Your energy bill will continue to come from PG&E,” he said. “If the power goes out, you still call PG&E.”

Bray estimated that a PG&E energy bill of $198.13 would be $197.27 with GreenStart. The same level of energy consumption would run $204.33 with GreenPrime. “Price renewables have come down significantly,” he said. “Co-op buying is really efficient, with significantly less overhead than PG&E.”

Bray also pointed to the publicly owned nature of SVCEA, which holds public meetings twice a month and posts its minutes and documents online. “If you don’t like your rate,” he said, “go down to Cupertino Community Hall on a Wednesday night and make yourself heard.”

The city of Los Altos has embraced SVCEA. At its Jan. 10 council meeting, the Los Altos City Council voted to use the GreenPrime option for municipal operations. According to a staff report, city officials expect communitywide emissions from electicity to decrease by more than 90 percent once the entire city is under SVCEA service by the end of the year.

SVCEA will begin by launching in municipal accounts, small and medium commercial properties and 20 percent of residences in April. It will expand into large commercial uses in July and hit 100 percent of residences opting into the system by October. Users with solar grids are treated slightly differently by the system and will receive notices outlining how the rate schedule will treat them.

Bruce Karney, president of the community group Carbon Free Mountain View, said his group “was very excited by the decision that was made, and we look forward to its implementation.”

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Los Altos Library Reading Buddies

Carter’s preferred snack is freeze-dried liver, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is his favorite book and eating is featured prominently on his list of daily activities. Torrey likes bananas, “Henry and Mudge” stories and dressing up. Desi’s jam is bacon, “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog” and napping in the sunshine.

As profiled on their respective promotional bookmarks, each four-legged Reading Buddies participant boasts a distinct personality. But it’s the canines’ ability to listen without interrupting that consistently attracts the program’s two-legged participants – struggling readers who gain confidence by reading aloud to therapy animals. Saturday marked the post-holiday return of the free monthly drop-in sessions at the Los Altos main library.

“It is a wonderful program because all the volunteers, they bring their dogs,” said Jean Nei, acting children’s library supervisor at the main branch. “The children, especially the young readers, love to come to the library to read to the dogs.”

Here’s how it works: Children are paired with a volunteer and read aloud to that volunteer’s trained therapy pet. No one corrects pronunciation or becomes impatient awaiting the completion of a sentence. Some pets even cock their heads as if following the storyline.

The program is a popular Los Altos Library offering, drawing approximately 10-15 readers each month, Nei said. Some of the young participants don’t own pets, and the opportunity to read to a friendly furry ear is a novelty.

Certified Animal Behaviorist Julie Bond co-founded Reading Buddies in 2009 with Patty Guthrie, past vice president of Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services. The San Jose-based organization dispatches volunteers and their pets to libraries, retirement homes and hospitals, as well as to high school and college campuses during exam times.

Furry Friends pays monthly visits to more than 60 facilities throughout Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, including Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, The Forum Senior Living Retirement Home and De Anza College. While dogs and cats are the most common therapy animals, rabbits, guinea pigs, miniature horses and even llamas have put in appearances as well. All human and animal volunteers are evaluated and trained.

Three of Bond’s own dogs – all collies – have participated in Reading Buddies; Desi, a 6-year-old male Rough Collie, is her latest program companion. His claim to fame is actually his roommate Ozzie, a direct descendant of Lassie from the classic television series, according to his bookmark.

The effects of Reading Buddies’ low-stress environment are evident during follow-up sessions and through reports from students’ schools, Bond said. “This increases their fluency, and it increases their confidence,” she said. “It helps them speak up in class.”

Volunteer Reading Buddies publicist Maddie Elkin, 14, learned about the program a few years ago when she assisted with ushering participants from the library lobby to their assigned dog or cat within the Orchard Room. Afterward, she listened as the children read.

Reading Buddies meets 2:30 p.m. the fourth Saturday of each month at the Los Altos main library, 13 S. San Antonio Road. For more information, visit furryfriends.org

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