Essential County services must be provided even during power outages
With summer around the corner and wildfire season upon us once more, the County of Marin is nearing completion of the first phase of a robust assessment of its key facility electrical power infrastructure. At the Marin County Board of Supervisors session on June 9, the Marin County Department of Public Works will share initial findings and recent developments during the pandemic as well as present recommended next steps.
A new generator cabinet outside Exhibit Hall at Marin Center is part of the County’s emergency backup power infrastructure improvements.
The power infrastructure assessment, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in January, is to ensure that the County can continue to provide essential services to residents during a disaster or disruption of power. An example of such an incident is the October and November 2019 series of Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s (PG&E) preemptive electrical power outages, dubbed “public safety power shutoff” (PSPS) events. The PSPS events resulted in unplugging nearly all Marin residents for days.
The first phase of the assessment targeted key County facilities and included evaluation of traditional and alternative backup power systems. Between January and early May, assessment of the Marin Center campus and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities, including the Kerner Boulevard campus in San Rafael, was completed. Assessment of the Civic Center campus, HHS’ 120 North Redwood Drive campus, and North San Pedro Road campus – all in San Rafael – are in progress and expected to be completed by August 2020.
Phase 1 of the project also included implementation of a transfer switch and related emergency power improvements at Marin Center Exhibit Hall. The work was expedited in April when the hall was designated as an alternate care site for medical patients in accordance with the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response. The newly installed equipment is compatible with portable generators, enabling the facility to operate on emergency power when necessary. During the pandemic, a portable generator has remained onsite and will continue as long as needed.
The Marin Center Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium (VMA) building also will be fitted with a transfer switch and necessary emergency power upgrades to make it generator-ready by July. The upgrades are estimated to cost $100,000, covered by the County’s allocated emergency preparations funding. In the event a major wildfire in Marin, the Marin Center facilities, including the VMA, would be repurposed as a base camp for firefighting personnel, and a rented generator could be connected to the new enhancements to provide emergency power.
Based on the assessment conducted by DPW staff and the contractor, Kitchell Inc., a range of implementation recommendations will be presented at the June 9 Board of Supervisors session. Options include the purchase of two generators (one portable and one stationary) and installation of various facility upgrades to accommodate the emergency power.
Alternative power sources, such as solar power coupled with Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) technologies, were assessed preliminarily with the potential for BESS at the Marin Center Exhibit Hall, which already has solar panels on the roof. However, for other key facilities, such as the North San Pedro Road campus, solar power and BESS proved unfeasible for various reasons including narrow drive paths and parking bays, shading from adjacent multistory buildings and vegetation, and insufficient roof area. However, options will continue to be explored in partnership with Marin Clean Energy.
The estimated cost of the recommendations is $1,352,000. An expected $167,000 in state funding under the federal CARES Act will help offset the cost, bringing the anticipated total to $1,185,000. Funding in the amount of $2 million for the proposed emergency preparations work was earmarked by the County following the 2019 PSPS events.