During the Northeast blackout in 2003, some facilities could not afford the loss of power. One was Salem Community Hospital in Salem, Ohio, which barely maintained its power using generators.

The growing healthcare facility had already been looking for options to improve its power generation and make room for expansion. The existing power plant stood in a space that would have allowed the hospital some growing room for a new surgical unit.

After the blackout, hospital administrators resolved to build a new power plant that would provide seamless, clean power to the hospital. They also planned to shut down and demolish their existing plant to make room for expansion.

For “Joe” Dickey Electric Inc., North Lima, Ohio-the electrical contractor for the project-it is like completing a heart transplant.

“The heart of the hospital is being removed and relocated, and we're putting in the veins and arteries,” said David Dickey, company president. To do this, the company had to take all existing data, fire alarm and other power systems in the hospital and integrate them into the hospital's new power source-a $20.5 million central plant.

Salem Hospital had a long history of moderate growth in a suburban area with numerous additions. As a result, its chilled water, cooling, hot water and emergency power generation were all operating at maximum capacity. The hospital had suffered power issues such as voltage spikes, sags and outages, which had yet to directly affect patient care.

Upgrading the existing plant was not an option. The existing central plant blocked the hospital's only direction for expansion. By placing the new plant on a different location, the hospital seized an opportunity that would allow future growth, new technologies and long-term energy efficiency.

The existing system kept critical functions running in the event of a power outage, but noncritical functions were affected by power failures. In addition, emergency power generators could take 10 seconds to kick in. Any time lost in a hospital environment can be a disaster.

Salem Hospital chose something with a greater capacity and latest technology, because the existing hospital consumes about 2 megawatts of power.

“[It is] the most intelligent and smart building we can have today,” said Thomas Griggs, director of plant operations.

The hospital had a conventional plan in place for a new power plant, but Griggs did some research into other options and came back with another idea.

“I told them, 'This is not the plan we want,'” Griggs said.

Griggs envisioned a plant with a rotary flywheel that would clean the power used, eliminate the power loss and provide the entire hospital with one system that could power the entire campus.

The three Piller UPS 800kW flywheels that were selected come with a direct digital-control facility management system (FMS), monitors and controls. They are also capable of adjusting energy use when necessary for improved efficiency.

The new system design includes enough interior floor space to expand to a fourth UPS module and another generator.

The flywheels are powered by the local utility from the primary connection. The wheels remain in motion, maintaining power during an outage for about 19 seconds. It also keeps the quality of electricity high as it comes into the hospital. This is important since Salem Hospital is located at the end of a commercial line where various electric noise reduces their power quality.

The new 76,000-square-foot central plant, designed by healthcare architects Westlake Reed Leskosky, Cleveland, positions the hospital for future expansion projects and all current and critical systems needs. Engineers from Westlake Reed Leskosky and Griggs traveled to Germany to see a rotary flywheel in action before beginning construction.

The project began in spring 2004, and “Joe” Dickey Electric arrived on the site on May 30. Selecting “Joe” Dickey Electric was an easy decision, Griggs said. It was the hospital's first and only choice.

“We've worked with them for years. They know our existing system so well it makes the transition much easier,” said Griggs.

“Joe” Dickey Electric installed the three flywheels and two 1,500W standby diesel generators. The company also connected emergency paralleling switchgear and ran conduit across the street to the hospital through a pipe-bridge that also acts as a pedestrian walkway. To completely connect the hospital and power plant, workers ran 18.22 miles of conduit and 86.55 miles of wire.

“What was unique was that we had to take all existing data and wiring out of the existing hospital, which had been built in multiple phases, and had to get everything integrated in the new plant,” Dickey said.

The physical plant houses a new chilled water plant with steam and hot-water boilers. The power plant uses primary and double-ended secondary switchgear as well as emergency diesel generator power, emergency paralleling switchgear and advanced flywheel stored energy.

The hospital has also included medical gas systems, a fire pump and domestic water booster pumps. Workers built a new loading dock, new material management area and storeroom, and relocated the hospital's information-services department.

The project also comes with a new chilled water plant and steam boilers, hot-water boilers, primary and double-ended secondary switchgear, emergency diesel generator power, and emergency paralleling switchgear.

A necessary project

Salem Community Hospital wanted to be independent from any local utility company. This way, power interruptions would not affect the hospital's own care and services. Because so much of modern medical technology is microprocessor-centered, electrical drops and spikes had created equipment damage in the hospital.

“With a brownout, it may take us months to figure out what all our damage was,” Griggs said. “There's lots of costs associated to that, that aren't quantitative.”

With the new construction, the plant generates enough of its own power to maintain hospital functions if the power grid fails. If the gas fails, the plant has an alternate fuel source that provides heat.

To secure the computer servers from any mechanical equipment damage, the plant offers waterproofing and flood-control measures to protect the area. “Joe” Dickey Electric installed continuous waterproofing to seal the space from the first floor down and around the entire basement. A secondary drainage system uses a sump pump that drains outside the building and handles any kind of rising ground water.

The Johnson Controls Internet-based FMS provides microprocessor controls, monitoring and optimization of energy use for the entire hospital to meet building needs more efficiently. It controls and operates the plant at the front end, monitoring all utilities coming into the facility.

In addition, the new FMS will be connected to approximately 4,000 existing points of control in the hospital, the adjacent medical office building and other separate buildings. It also allows future expansion--placing the entire hospital's energy needs at the command of plant operations management.

The FMS interfaces with the Square D PowerLogic power monitoring and control system allowing remote access of vital information related to the power-distribution system.

The system uses the hospital's high-speed backbone network and remote power-monitoring devices for implementing automatic control, data logging, alarming, event recording, and other power-monitoring operations.

Information related to events such as electrical outages and brownouts is available, including when, where and how power was lost. If the cause is shown to have been on the site, the data enables the facility's maintenance staff to locate and correct malfunctioning equipment.

The project is scheduled to be completed in August 2006.

Robert Smolinski, manager of electrical engineering for Westlake Reed Leskoski, indicated it is one of the few “engineering-driven” projects the company has undertaken.

“We've done lots of expansions, but it's not ordinary to build a new central plant for an existing hospital,” Smolinski said.

He added that the challenge has been to “build it from scratch, connect it to the existing hospital while keeping the power on.” EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.