California Outages Strain Energy Management at Health Care Facilities

by | Nov 1, 2019

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California Outages Strain Energy Management at Health Care Facilities

Health care executives in California say that Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s public safety power shutoffs are causing widespread disruption, including extensive reliance on backup generators and facility closures.

The chief executive officer at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, Dr. Brian Evans, told the Sacramento Bee that the latest power outage represented a first in his 22-year career: The hospital was on emergency generator backup for 40 hours.

“We’ve had short-term disruptions, but typically it wasn’t one of these planned outages that lasted for quite some time,” he said this week. Theresa Frei, CEO of the Sutter Valley Medical Foundation, told the paper that a generator keeping one of Sutter Health’s rural health clinics in Brownsville running had failed. Patients were sent to another facility about an hour away.

Starting in early October, PG&E began a series of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) due to weather conditions that presented a heightened fire risk. The first round of planned outages affected more than 730,000 customers. During a regulatory hearing last month, PG&E CEO William Johnson said that improving the utility’s electric system to avoid these kinds of outages could take a decade.

Despite the planned outages, a blaze began on October 23 in Sonoma County. The Kincade Fire burned 77,758 acres and destroyed 352 structures, the Sacramento Bee reported. A red flag warning and high winds prompted an evacuation of the Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital on October 27.

“Across California, wildfires and outages have forced health care providers to close hospitals and medical clinics, or greatly limit services,” Cathie Anderson wrote in the Sacramento Bee. “Both Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health evacuated their hospitals in Santa Rosa last weekend, the second time in three years the medical centers had to be abandoned as flames and fumes approached.”

Seth Baruch, the national director for energy and utilities at Kaiser Permanente, spoke with Environment + Energy Leader this fall about solar plus storage systems. Hospitals have backup generators, but medical office buildings — MOBs — typically don’t, he explained.

Baruch said that Kaiser Permanente is in the process of mapping out their areas of highest risk and looking at equipment upgrade projects that could enable medical facilities to operate independently of the grid, in island mode.

As of this morning, firefighters had contained 68% of the Kincade Fire, according to Cal Fire. Meanwhile, investigations are underway to determine whether PG&E’s high-voltage transmission lines had sparked it.

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