Utilities at a Glance

The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) is privileged to provide you with five municipal utility services: electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater, and fiber optics. The City’s Public Works Department also provides refuse collection and processing for recycle, compost and garbage, wastewater treatment, and stormwater management services. 

Our employees work hard to provide safe, reliable, environmentally sustainable, and cost-effective services to all residents in our 26 square mile area. Read more on each of the services we provide.

Download and print a paper version of our Utilities at a Glance Brochure(PDF, 6MB).

Electricity

Since 2013, Palo Alto has provided 100% carbon neutral electricity. Carbon neutral means that we match electricity demand with carbon-free supply on an annual basis. Our electric portfolio includes solar, wind, and hydroelectric generation — all carbon-free! We also generate electricity from landfill gas, which keeps harmful methane out of the environment while lighting local homes and businesses. 


Electric Utility Founded in 1900  Fiscal Year 2020
Number of Residential Accounts 25,876
Number of Commercial Accounts  3,973
Miles of 60kV Sub-transmission Lines  19
Miles of Primary Overhead Distribution Lines  116
Miles of Primary Underground Distribution Lines  195
Highest Peak Load (in MegaWatts)  176
Substations (w/ 300 MVA Total Capacity)  9
Total Annual kWh (Kilowatt Hours) Purchased   880,509,000
Total Carbon Neutral Power Sources  100%
Traffic Signals (Intersections) Maintained  109
Streetlights Maintained  7,033
Savings Through Efficiency Programs (Cumulative Savings, FY 2008-2019, in kWh) 83,975,000 

Water

The water that comes out of your faucet starts as snow in the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite National Park, approximately 200 miles east of Palo Alto. As the snow melts each spring, water drains into the Tuolumne River, beginning its three-day journey to our community. Along the way, it is stored in a series of reservoirs, including the Hetch Hetchy, San Antonio, and Calaveras.

 

Two unique features of this system stand out: the drinking water provided is among the purest in the world, and the system for delivering that water is almost entirely gravity-fed, requiring almost no use of fossil fuels to move water from the mountains to your tap.


Water Utility Founded in 1896 Fiscal Year 2020 
Number of Residential Accounts  16,579
Number of Commercial Accounts 4,029
Miles of Water Main 236
Number of Wells 8
 Number of Reservoirs 7
Total Storage Capacity (In Millions of Gallons) 13
Total Annual Water Purchased (In Billions of Gallons) 3.56
Peak Flow (In Millions of Gallons per Day)  18.5
Fluoride Added (In Parts-per-million) (Learn More) 0.7

Savings Through Water Conservation (Cumulative Savings, FY 2008–2019, in Gallons) 134,242

Wastewater

Ever wonder what happens to water after you flush the toilet or wash the dishes? In most parts of Palo Alto, your wastewater travels through sewer lines to the Regional Water Quality Control Plant, which treats over 17 million gallons of wastewater each day! Following a day-long treatment process that removes pollutants, most of the treated wastewater is discharged at the Palo Alto Baylands and the Renzel Marsh Freshwater Pond along East Bayshore Road. Ultimately, water from the Renzel Marsh Pond ends up in San Francisco Bay, where it helps to maintain a healthy ecosystem. 

 

Some of the wastewater is treated to high-quality recycled water standards that meet rigorous state requirements for non-potable uses. This recycled water is transported through a network of purple pipes that are separate from the drinking water network. 

CPAU uses recycled water to irrigate the municipal golf course, the Regional Water Quality Control Plant and Greer Park. Recycled water also supplies the duck pond and industrial processes at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Using recycled water instead of clean drinking water for non-potable purposes such as irrigating landscapes and flushing toilets takes the pressure off our freshwater resources and helps buffer our community against droughts. We are always evaluating other ways to increase the use of treated wastewater.

Wastewater Utility Founded in 1898 Fiscal Year 2020 
Number of Residential Accounts 20,496 
Number of Commercial Accounts 1,914
Effluent Treated from Palo Alto Sewers (Billions of Gallons) 2.225 
Total Miles of Sanitary Sewer Lines  216

Natural Gas

In decades past, natural gas was the lowest-cost, cleanest option compared to other available heating sources. Nevertheless, natural gas is a fossil fuel that produces carbon dioxide, a common GHG, when burned. In addition, natural gas itself is primarily methane, a GHG more potent than carbon dioxide. Some methane inevitably leaks into the atmosphere when natural gas is produced and transported. The good news is that the expansion of renewable electricity and the deployment of new heat-pump technologies make electric water and space heating a more climate-friendly alternative. When compared to heat pumps powered by Palo Alto’s carbon neutral electricity, natural  gas is no longer the cleaner option. We recognize that support for these new products is increasing across the Bay Area and beyond, and we  are committed to helping Palo Altans find more ways to reduce their carbon emissions.

In fiscal year 2019, CPAU’s gas efficiency programs reduced gas use by 167,186 therms, which is about 0.44 percent of the City’s total gas use. The avoided GHG emissions from the gas efficiency savings is equivalent to taking 191 passenger vehicles off the road for a year. A big part of a decarbonized energy future starts with stakeholder engagement. Talking to customers, business leaders, and energy experts is the first step in planning a long-term transition away from natural gas. Our programs, policies, and education efforts are developed with support and input from our community stakeholders and customers. 

If you have a gas service at your home or business, you can do your part to reduce your carbon footprint by reducing your gas usage. When your gas appliances reach the end of their lifespan, consider replacing them with efficient electric alternatives. The City offers rebates of up to $1,500 for the replacement of a gas water heater with a heat-pump water heater. Since CPAU’s electricity is carbon neutral, there will be an immediate positive impact on the climate.  While we recognize the industry’s support for and movement toward building electrification, CPAU is committed to maintaining the existing gas distribution system safely as long as it operates. Learn more about how to safely operate gas appliances at your home and what our responsibilities are for maintaining the natural gas distribution system at cityofpaloalto.org/gassafety 


Gas Utility Founded in 1917 Fiscal Year 2020 
Number of Residential Accounts 21,451
Number of Commercial Accounts 2,319
Total Miles of Gas Mains 211
Total Miles of Gas Services Lines 201
Savings Through Efficiency Programs (cumulative savings, FY 2008–2019, in therms) 2,518,425

Fiber Optics

Local businesses and organizations are honing their digital edge using CPAU’s fiber-optic network. As barriers of time and space recede in a tech-oriented economy, having secure access to fast internet service is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity. Palo Alto is recognized worldwide as a leader in cutting-edge technological development, a place where innovative ideas are developed and launched. Known as the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley,” Palo Alto is where a number of today’s major high-tech companies  were incubated.Little surprise, then, that CPAU has developed a dark fiber ring of nearly 49 miles for ultra-fast internet access to support innovation, education, and commerce. Dark fiber, which consists of preexisting underground infrastructure and city services, requires hardware and software connections to run those city services. While fiber optic cables that are actively sending data via light wavelengths are considered “lit,” the rest of the unused fibers laying in wait are deemed unlit — or “dark.”Cities around the country have also chosen to offer unused capacity on their fiber optic systems. CPAU originally built its fiber optic network to upgrade its own electric power system, but the nature of fiber optics is that capacity is often far greater than needed for solely our own organization’s purposes. 

Fiber Optic Utility Founded in 1996 Fiscal Year 2020
Number of Customer Accounts 194
Year of Fiber Optic Backbone Construction 1997
Route Miles of Fiber Cable (Complete Backbone): 47.96
Backbone Fiber-Miles 6,005.9
Miles of Overhead Fiber Optic Cable 23.36
Miles of Underground Fiber Optic Cable 66.4
Commercial Buildings Connected to Fiber Optic Backbone 201
Gross Sales for "Dark Fiber Licensing” (in Dollars) 4.4 Million

Refuse and Zero Waste

The goals for the Refuse Fund are to minimize waste generation and maximize recycling and reuse programs to achieve zero waste by 2030; to protect the environment by safely collecting and disposing of hazardous waste; and to effectively maintain and monitor the City’s closed landfill to meet all regulatory requirements. 

Refuse and Zero Waste Fiscal Year 2020
Waste Diverted from Landfill 81%
Total Tons of Materials Recycled/ Composted 51,852
 Percent of Commercial Accounts with Compost and Recycling Service  100%
Households Serviced Through Household Hazardous Waste Program 4,519
Percent of Households with Mini-can Garbage Service 44%

Financial Highlights

2020 Financial Highlights (in Millions) Electric Natural Gas Water Wastewater Fiber Optics Refuse
Sales Revenue $146,060 $35,174 $46,369 $20,335 $4,445 $30,125
Interest, Fees & Other Revenue $27,706 $3,320 $4,966 $1,503 $1,546 $3,788
Commodity Purchase Costs  $90,791 $11,102 $21,773 $10,233 0 $23,044
Operating Costs  $37,427 $13,162 $17,141 $6,569 $2,470 $13,609
Capital Depreciation $8,498 $3,454 $3,002  $2,443 $418 $86