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Standby Power System at Florida VA Hospital Covers All Electrical Loads

Completed at a cost of $47 million, it includes SCADA and a backup system capable of covering all electrical loads for 120 hours (without refueling) in the event of an outage.

Few, if any, hospitals have a better power system than the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital (see Photo, left) in Tampa, Fla., thanks to its recently renovated power plant. Completed at a cost of $47 million, it includes SCADA and a backup system capable of covering all electrical loads for 120 hours (without refueling) in the event of an outage.

A teaching hospital affiliated with the adjacent University of South Florida College of Medicine, Haley Hospital provides a full range of patient services with state-of-the-art technology and research. It has 548 beds, plus another 118 beds in an on-site long-term care and rehabilitation facility — the Haley’s Cove Community Living Center. The busiest of four U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) polytrauma facilities in the nation, Haley serves a four-county area in which it also runs four outpatient clinics.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the VA called for bids to upgrade emergency/backup power systems at VA hospitals in hurricane zones — upgrades that could ensure continuous air conditioning, not just the operation of life-safety and other critical equipment. For Haley Hospital, the winning bid for power control switchgear, transfer switches, and SCADA was from Russelectric, based in Hingham, Mass.

Although there has not been an unexpected utility outage since the system became fully operational in May 2010, Byron Taylor, the hospital’s lead power plant operator, appreciates the extra layer of confidence. At Taylor’s side to oversee the system, as they were throughout the planning and installation process, are Engine Technician Kyle Graley and Electrical Shop Supervisor Bill Hagen.

“We’ve had some storms come through, and it has been really nice because we do not have to worry,” says Taylor. “One time, we saw the storms coming and TECO [Tampa Electric Company] asked us to drop off the grid. We fired up our generators, and we operated on our own power for 17 hours, while TECO concentrated on restoring power to its residential customers. That sort of thing has happened several other times for shorter periods, and there has never been a problem.”

The hospital’s former backup power system included nine on-site generators, yet it could only cover life-safety loads — 45% of the hospital’s total load — in the event of a utility outage.

Hagen has no fond memories for the old system, which he calls “a major headache,” least of all for the system’s dynamic matrix control.

“We had nothing but problems with it,” he recalls. “We never got it to work in parallel. It couldn’t even generate a monthly testing report.”

In contrast, the new backup system covers every load for nine buildings, 15 trailers that make up an on-campus clinic, and a parking garage — with seven new 13,200-VAC Caterpillar diesel generators. Supplied by Ring Power, the generators produce 2,200kW each.

Another improvement is the hospital’s renovated fuel system. The former system had a capacity of 22,000 gallons, and the storage tanks were spread out over several locations. Today, a new tank farm has four 12,000-gallon tanks. With another 6,000-gallon tank under each generator, the system has a capacity of 90,000 gallons.

Despite these milestones, more improvements are in the works. As of now, Haley Hospital receives no rebates or preferred rates from Tampa Electric Company, and the agreement between the entities does not allow the hospital to feed power back to the grid. But that agreement could change. On the roof of a parking garage, the hospital will be installing photovoltaic cells expected to generate another 500kW of power. Newly installed solar panels in the adjacent parking lot near the long-term care facility (Haley’s Cove) will supplement that building’s utility feed by up to 500kW, so the new cells will boost Haley’s photoelectric output to a total of 1 MW — enough to illuminate two parking lots. Although feeds from the solar panels are lost when the hospital’s generators take over, under everyday conditions the new panels might provide surplus power that would enable the hospital to sell some power back to TECO. A peak-shaving arrangement with the utility is also likely in the near future, according to Taylor.

Also very important to the power control system upgrade is the new SCADA system (see Photo, right), which includes customized software and screen displays from Russelectric. It provides interactive monitoring, real-time and historical trending, distributed networking, alarm management, and comprehensive reports around the clock for the entire power system, not just for the backup components.

In accordance with state and federal regulations, the backup generators are tested every month. Thanks to the new system’s capability for closed-transition transfer, the tests inconvenience no one. Because there is no interference with hospital loads, there is no “blip” (power interruption).

The system gives Taylor and Graley the luxury of carrying out the tests in two different ways. They can parallel the output of all seven generators to the utility feed, or they can test one generator at a time, up to its full output, by way of a special 2-MW load bank (see Photo, left) that has an independent control panel. Testing can be initiated manually or through SCADA.

Unlike most hospitals, Haley has the luxury of four utility feeds. On a normal day, it draws from two of these (primary) feeds. This means that, except for testing, Haley does not have to start its generators until it loses three or more utility feeds. With advance notice from the utility that an outage is likely, Haley’s power plant personnel can now parallel the utility feeds with their own generators and then switch to on-site power seamlessly (closed-transition transfer). But if there is an unexpected outage (and when the automatic transfer switches are tested), there will be a “blip” of 1 to 10 seconds, depending on the load. For life-safety and other critical loads, the “blip” is only 1 to 3 seconds. “Blips” for other loads are adjustable; most are set for 8-10 seconds.

The fact that the system is designed to allow for modifications as the hospital is also a plus. “With this new power system, we have seen what is possible,” notes Taylor. “It provides us with the information we need to analyze our power usage and consider new possibilities — opportunities we never would have considered before.”

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