Progress on Emergency Power for County Facilities

Posted on February 10, 2021

For Immediate Release –

San Rafael, CA –

Disaster preparedness spurs backup power upgrades for essential services

Exterior shot of Marin Health and Human Services building
The next stage of County’s electrical backup power infrastructure upgrades will be implemented at HHS’ Health and Wellness campus in San Rafael.

With the surge in California wildfires in 2020, including in West Marin, the need for resilient essential services facilities in Marin County is more real than ever. To prepare for such disasters, the County of Marin has been assessing and upgrading emergency backup electrical power infrastructure for key facilities.

The County’s power infrastructure assessment, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in January 2020, is to ensure that the County can continue to provide essential services to residents during a disaster or disruption of power. Making such improvements became evident following a series of preemptive public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events initiated by Pacific Gas & Electric Company in October and November 2019.

The assessments and upgrades that began in early 2020 targeted key County facilities located in San Rafael, including the Civic Center campus, the Marin Center campus, and various Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) facilities.

Under the coordination of the Department of Public Works, the accomplishments to date include completion of backup power work at the Marin Center’s Exhibit Hall and Veterans Memorial Auditorium, enabling the facilities to function as COVID-19 alternate care and evacuation sites during an emergency. The Exhibit Hall also operated as a pandemic testing site and now functions as a vaccination center for the community. With upgrades finished in October 2020, the Marin Center facilities are now capable of providing a staging location for firefighter operations, if it were strategically necessary during a wildfire event.

The next stage of electrical backup power infrastructure will be implemented at HHS’ Health and Wellness campus in San Rafael starting in April. The improvements, totaling $787,000 include a 500-kilowatt renewable diesel generator, transfer switches and other related electrical upgrades to ensure emergency backup power during a disaster.

The project at the Health and Wellness campus is expected to take approximately two months to complete, which should have it prepared for peak wildfire season. In case of a PSPS event being initiated this spring, an existing generator set up will be used to meet limited operational needs.

While assessments have already been completed on HHS’ North Redwood Drive campus and North San Pedro Road campus, design work has been halted due to the need to reevaluate community services versus building functions and workspace needs in light of the pandemic and future on-site staffing demands. For any immediate PSPS events, backup power will not be required, as other HHS locations will accommodate services during such incidents.

Backup power options for the Civic Center campus have been identified but cost estimates still need to be prepared and no funding has been identified at this time. In addition, due to the current conditions of COVID-19, recent wildfires and the immediate pressing need to provide shelter for County residents, the progress for the Civic Center has been put on hold. Final decisions on options and subsequent construction is not anticipated until later this year, once potential complexities and cost have been evaluated.

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 multi-story buildings and vegetation, and insufficient roof area. However, future options will continue to be explored in partnership with Marin Clean Energy.

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