Healthcare Network Offers Glimpse of the Future of Backup Power
Bassett Healthcare, based in Cooperstown, New York, is noteworthy not only for its top-quality patient care, but also for its self-sufficiency. With more than 270 physicians on the payroll (an unusual closed-group practice), Bassett operates a teaching hospital, a research institute, and a network of regional clinics serving eight counties in upstate New York. All of its 24 facilities are protected by emergency backup power systems that go beyond the capabilities of most other hospitals — all using equipment designed and built by Russelectric® Inc.
In August of 2003, when a surge of electricity to western New York touched off a massive blackout affecting eight states in the Northeast, Midwest, and parts of Canada, Bassett was an island of light in a sea of darkness — up and running on its backup system. The company’s “flagship,” the 180-bed Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in downtown Cooperstown, played a key role by feeding the community, accepting refrigerated vaccines from county offices that had lost power, and providing other services for competing healthcare institutions that didn’t have backup power.
Bassett is even more secure today, thanks to a 2004 upgrade/expansion that added generating capacity and more capabilities to its advanced emergency power system. Much of the credit goes to Joe Middleton. Middleton, Bassett’s forward-thinking vice president for corporate support services and facilities planning, has a degree in electrical engineering and once taught at the university level. His knowledge and experience helped him guide Bassett’s board of directors through some tough decisions and significant financial investments to the enviable position they find themselves in today.
“Power outages are common,” says Middleton. “But it’s not just a reliability issue; it’s a matter of system redundancy – we’re in a rural area with a single electrical feed and no natural gas service, so it became necessary to create our own secondary power source.”
Although hospitals are required to have an emergency power system for critical loads, many are located in communities with a second source of normal power. Some are even served by two electrical utilities. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code sees this as the ideal, stating: “For the greatest assurance of continuity of electrical service, the normal source should consist of two separate full-capacity services, each independent of the other.” [NFPA 99 2005 ANNEX A.184.108.40.206.1]
Bassett employs 2800 people, more than the population of Cooperstown, and sees about 1000 outpatients a day on top of regular admissions. While management’s first concern is how to provide the best patient care, reliable backup power has a fiscal benefit as well. Middleton estimates the loss of power for eight hours would amount to a revenue loss of $1,000,000.
Bassett isn’t taking any chances. The default mode of the paralleling gear for their backup power system meets the requirements of the NFPA’s National Electrical Code (NEC), providing emergency power to loads that supply critical services for life safety plus the HVAC system and some other equipment – the typical hospital emergency power system. However, that is only the beginning for Bassett’s system, which ensures that all elevators will also keep running and then, five minutes after the beginning of the outage, ramps up two additional generators to restore full power to the hospital and 15 other buildings.
In an operating room, for example, this can make a big difference. The NEC says only a certain percentage of electrical receptacles (outlets) in an operating room (OR) must be on emergency power, not all of them. “You can’t count on two hands the number of computerized devices in our cardiovascular OR,” says Middleton. So at Bassett, five minutes after a power loss, not just the receptacles prescribed by code, but all receptacles are live again. At that point, Bassett facilities are energy independent, generating all their own primary power. The system can back-feed and feed around any fault on the campus.
But that’s not all. Another backup system, entirely separate and distinct, ensures a continuous power feed to Bassett’s data center, which is also on the Cooperstown campus. This system, which has its own redundancies, allows no power interruptions at all. These days, the loss of computer access to patient drug histories, digital radiology films, and other electronic records would be a serious setback for doctors, nurses, and ultimately patients.
An advocate for the extra backup he brought about at Bassett, Middleton observes, “As healthcare technology becomes more and more sophisticated, concurrent with the increased focus on expense control, the continuous delivery of medical information is critical. A reliable power system really needs to be a bottom-line calculation. Unfortunately, most healthcare facilities have not realized this yet.”
In the 1980s Middleton worked for the Carle Foundation Hospital in Illinois. When, as part of that hospital’s expansion program, management decided to consolidate and centralize their power distribution system and parallel their sources of emergency power, Middleton was involved in the selection process for the design, manufacture, and installation of the necessary switchgear. Before long, one company — Russelectric® Inc. — stood out for both their products and service.
Based in Hingham, Massachusetts, Russelectric® designs, builds, commissions, and services power control systems for hospitals, data centers, Internet service providers, airports, and other mission-critical facilities. Systems can provide sophisticated control functions such as emergency/standby power, peak shaving, load curtailment, utility paralleling, cogeneration, and prime power. All systems are supported by the company’s factory-direct, 24-hour field service.
Impressed by Russelectric®’s post-installation support services as well as by the quality, reliability, capability, and adaptability of its equipment, Middleton recommended the company when he came to Bassett Healthcare in 1988. Bassett made Russelectric® its sole-source supplier for emergency backup power equipment. Nowadays, whenever Bassett decides to design a new system or modify an existing one, it invites Russelectric® to sit in on all planning sessions, beginning at the very start of the preliminary planning phase.
In 1990 and 1991, Bassett asked Russelectric® to design, build, and install switchgear synchronizing three 900 kW, 480 volt generator sets for the main campus in Cooperstown. Upon loss of utility voltage, this system starts and synchronizes the three generator sets, and automatic transfer switches transfer the emergency load to the generator source. Upon return of utility power, after a time delay to make sure the utility source is stable, the transfer switches re-transfer the emergency loads to the normal source.
Everything worked so well that years later, when it was time to upgrade/expand the system, there was no question who should do it. “We stuck with Russelectric® because we needed reliability and flexibility of control,” says Middleton.
In 2004 Bassett upgraded the controls of the paralleling and transfer gear installed in 1990/91 and added two medium-voltage gensets (2 mW each) capable of generating 12.47 kV. Installed on a primary bus, these are linked to and parallel with the three original gensets. For an overview of the system, see Figure 1.
Figure 1 – Bassett Healthcare’s emergency power system is programmed for two stages. If the utility feed is lost, the Russelectric® switchgear transfers critical life/safety loads to three 480 volt generators. Five minutes later, if the utility feed is still unavailable, two 12,470-volt generators kick in, restoring full power to the hospital and 15 other buildings. When the outage is over, the system gradually retransfers power to the utility in the reverse order — first from the two larger generators, then from the three smaller ones.
With these upgrades, if the normal utility feed is not restored in five minutes, the Russelectric® equipment switches to the Bassett system as the primary power source (Figure 1). Special controls in the paralleling switchgear and transfer switches lock the equipment in the emergency position so it doesn’t roll back to normal. Then, when a tie breaker is closed, the system begins back-feeding through a 2000 kVA transformer (480 volts secondary, 12.47 kV primary) to generate enough primary power to feed the entire Cooperstown campus.
“In a sense, we’ve spoiled people,” says Middleton. “Our employees have become accustomed to continuous full power; they become very anxious with any transient outages. We’re seriously considering adjusting the timing circuit to reduce the delay from five minutes to just two minutes.”
When the normal supply voltage returns, the system, after a preset time delay, transfers all building loads, in the selected transition mode, back to the normal source. Once initiated, the retransfer sequence occurs in two stages. In the closed transition mode, the 12.47 kV generators synchronize with the utility power source, close the 12.47 kV utility breaker, transfer the load gradually to the utility source, and then open the 12.47 kV generator tie breaker. Once the 12.47 kV generators have transferred their load, the switchgear controls allow the 480 V transfer switches to retransfer to their normal position. The engines will continue to operate unloaded for a cool-down period. All controls are then automatically reset, in readiness for the next operation.
The Russelectric® switchgear can also be programmed for baseload peak-shaving. Thanks to a lucrative agreement between Bassett Healthcare and the regional power company, Bassett’s backup power system pays for itself over time. An “interruptible power contract” gives the utility permission to drop Bassett from the regional electrical grid (with advance notice) during periods of peak demand. In return, the utility pays Bassett, at a rate much higher than what Bassett pays for its normal feed, for every megawatt Bassett generates while off-line.
“It’s great for us,” says Middleton. “We’re off the grid for a few hundred hours a year, mostly in the summertime, when the power we generate is of higher quality than what we get from the utility. It’s rock-solid, with stable frequency and voltage. But on the grid, with all the air-conditioning demands, we see large switching transients as new power sources are switched in and out.” Bassett also has the capacity to export power to the grid, although they have never been asked to do so.
Middleton makes sure he has 45,000 gallons of less-polluting, low-sulfur oil stored on site for the generators. The two largest generators consume 280 gallons an hour when operating — 6,720 gallons every 24 hours. With the three older, smaller generators operating concurrently, Bassett could burn 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of oil a day just to power the main campus. Due to improvements by the manufacturer (Caterpillar), Bassett’s two newest generators, the largest ones, produce fewer emissions together than one of the original generators purchased in 1990. All of Bassett’s generators are rated and permitted for continuous use if necessary.
Today, in addition to the main facility, every Bassett clinic has its own Russelectric® automatic transfer switch for backup power. Bassett maintains 30 generators in all. “When you look at a Russelectric® transfer switch, you can see that the quality of the bussing, the control wires, the layout, etc. is dramatically better than that of competitors’ switches,” says Middleton. He estimates that 16 Russelectric® transfer switches and one set of paralleling gear, all of which were installed almost 18 years ago, will last another 10 years.
“At Bassett, we look at utility infrastructure as the core support element for all our other initiatives,” Middleton explains. “If the infrastructure is flexible, and adaptable, you can build on it. But to do that, you need to partner with a company whose systems are adaptable and reliable, a company that is nimble and service-oriented. Russelectric® is both. We depend on Russelectric® field service for everything except routine daily maintenance. When we have issues with our system that are beyond our local capabilities, no matter how complex, Russelectric® is there without delay — their service is timely and spot-on.”
“Russelectric® has been a true partner with us from day one,” Middleton continues. “Their top-notch engineers have helped us through problems, creating unique solutions. It’s been a great relationship. Russelectric®’s focus is on the design and sale of industry-leading products, but they should sell their services too. They are a talented, creative group of people, and they offer exceptional engineering capabilities and services. After all, when you invest in a power control system you’re buying much more than gray boxes!”