Complying With New Florida Backup Power Rules
Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in its path. Irma was the strongest Atlantic storm in over a decade and made landfall in Florida on September 10, 2017. The port of Miami was closed for three days. About 7.7 million customers lost electricity in that time. Two days after landfall, 4.4 million people were still without power. The estimated damage from the storm was $53 billion to the state of Florida and 84 fatalities were tied to the storm statewide.
The health care industry took a major hit from the storm as well. In total, 350 of the 700 nursing homes lost power and 88 facilities had to be evacuated. Of the 3,100 assisted living facilities, 1,677 lost power and 635 had to be evacuated. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills suffered the biggest loss when they were without power for more than three days. The 152-bed privately owned nursing home had no air conditioning because it was not connected to an emergency generator. As a result, 12 residents died of heat related issues attributed to the hurricane.
Six days after Irma made landfall, on September 16, 2017, Governor Rick Scott issued an emergency order for generators, requiring every nursing home and assisted living facility in the state to have the equipment. The measure was ratified by the state legislature in March of 2018. Facilities were required to file an Emergency Power Plan (EPP), they had to identify a cooling space for all patients/residents, and they are required to maintain 81°F for 96 hours in the event of a loss of normal power. The target enforcement date for the law was June 1, 2018 and the necessary equipment needed to be installed and operational by January 1, 2019.
Before Irma, Lourdes McKeen Towers already had a system in place. They had two incoming utility services from serving utility pad mounted transformers. They had a 600 kW diesel generator for essential electrical systems and life safety. A 4,000-gallon underground diesel fuel storage tank was also included. Prior to the storm, the facility investigated improving their generator system. The governor’s new law moved the system from “wish list” to mandated. After review and discussion of the direction, they wanted to take the new system, the lifeboat and cooling-only solutions were not desirable to the facility management, instead they wanted a whole-house solution.
“An existing generator had been on the property for 20 years,” said Pace Alford, executive director, Lourdes McKeen Towers. “It was a standard diesel generator that powered up only key emergency systems. The generator would only run limited key systems like strategic red plugs, elevators, dining, limited lighting and life safety systems. A key problem was the system didn’t run AC systems, which is now required by state law.”
The new system design was complicated and came with some technical challenges. The design team had to find space for the generation system and distribution equipment. They determined there would be an impact on the existing underground parking garage by taking several spaces meant for residents and employees to help support the generator. The team then had to determine how much more fuel would be needed in conjunction to the existing 4,000 gallon storage tank. They also had to determine a plan for performing the installation while keeping the facility in operation 24/7, which required a temporary utility tie-in or a mobile generator.
Many factors pushed for Lourdes McKeen Towers to pursue a turnkey solution. “We wanted to turn the generator system into not just a part of the plant operation makeup of the facility, but a marketable piece of the community,” said Alford. “As these power regulations develop people want to know that communities will not just keep the air on or meet the bare minimum standard required by the state, but will go above and beyond for the care of their loved ones.”
When analyzing the best solution for this project, utility data showed an annual maximum peak of 1124 kW was used. The design team looked at two possible solutions based on that knowledge. The first was a single 1500 kW generator. It would be 520” in length across five parking spaces. With no fuel, the unit would weigh 52,000 lbs., with fuel it would weigh 73,000 lbs. The other option was a Modular Power Solution (MPS) consisting of three 500 kW generators. The solution would be 408” in length spanning three parking spaces. The units would weigh 45,000 lbs. with no fuel and 66,000 lbs. with fuel.
In the end, McKeen Towers went with the MPS bi-fuel solution. “Pre-Irma goal was a new generator plant for the entire building,” said Alford. “To meet that need we would have to have substantial fuel storage and the governor’s order guidelines made it difficult for us to meet that goal. The bi-fuel system helps not only meet, but exceed the governor’s mandate by providing additional protection through fuel redundancy.” Despite the perceived value of having diesel fuel on-site for reliability, power outages can damage infrastructure and make diesel refueling difficult or impossible. Generac bi-fuel generators mitigate refueling issues by operating primarily on utility-supplied natural gas. A bi-fuel generator starts on diesel fuel and adds natural gas as load is applied, until the unit runs primarily on natural gas. Bi-fuel generators do meet the on-site fuel requirements for emergency systems as referenced in NEC 700 and NFPA 110. With less diesel fuel required to be stored on-site, permitting also becomes easier. The onsite fuel requirement for this project called for 6,826 gallons. In addition to the 4,000 gallon UST, three 1,000 gallon day tanks were added, providing 161 hours of run time.
“The project has been received overwhelming positive by our residents, guests, prospective residents, and the state of Florida’s regulatory bodies involved in this process,” said Alford. “It helps to differentiate ourselves from other providers who have just met the bare minimum of power requirements.” Going forward, McKeen Towers said there will be a greater focus from the public on these types of systems and we will see the need to provide a marketable approach to encourage other corporate leadership to buy into investments beyond the standard. Alford said facilities must look at these systems not merely as a regulatory headache, but as a chance to prevent future issues during an emergency situation.
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