Power outages continue in preparation for energy plant

This week, during spring break, Facilities Operations is scheduling several power outages that will affect a wide number of buildings. Here’s a brief Q&A with Terry Ryan, Washington State University’s energy manager, explaining why, when and where the articles are occurring.

Q: Why we’re having the outages?

TR: The new Grimes Way Steam Plant (GWSP) facility includes three generators providing a total of four megawatts of electrical generation capacity. These were necessary to provide capacity during utility outages to maintain our life safety and certain critical loads (Feeder 13, the GWSP, and the IT Facility).

Because the design allows for future growth in those facilities and systems, there initially will be a significant excess capacity (1.8 megawatts) available, which can support other critical loads fed from the adjacent East Campus Substation.

The electrical power system was also designed so these generators can be operated in parallel with utility power as needed. This feature allows WSU to use the generation to supplement utility power, which can be important in situations such as occurred in 2001 when there were electrical supply shortages. The system includes an automated control system, which will operate the generators during utility outages and energize the higher priority feeders/facilities with the power that is available.

The integrated power system, consisting of generators, switchgear and control systems, must be functionally tested to assure it operates as specified. While a certain level of testing is possible without causing electrical outages, that testing is near completion and the balance of testing requires actual outages to occur and the response to be verified.

As there are two utility feeders (for reliability) to the East Campus Substation, there are several different scenarios which could occur. The system must be proofed against each of those scenarios for WSU to rely on it in under normal operating conditions.

The State Department of Labor & Industries also requires the power systems to be certified as it supports life safety needs, resulting in additional testing requirements.

Q: Why were these outages slated them for March 13-21?

TR: March 13-21 was selected as the test period for a number of reasons. One was to help minimize the impact on the campus. Since this is Spring Break week, the student population is low and potential impacts on classes are avoided.

The second reason is that the certification testing required by Labor and Industry is required before the new GWSP can be put in operation, and the scheduled on-line date for the plant is May 1.

So opportunities are very limited to support that time frame. A third reason is that we tend to have mid-range weather this part of the year, so loss of heating or cooling does not bring immediate interior impacts, as would occur during the winter or summer months.

The 12-hour outage on Saturday, March 13, had a big impact, but it was the only way to perform the certification testing required by Labor & Industries for the East Campus Substation switchgear.

The balance of the testing this week has been scheduled to occur at night, between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., starting Sunday night March 14 and extending through the Spring Break week until testing is completed. We know that there will still be impacts, but it is hoped that approach will minimize them to the greatest extent possible commensurate with performing the necessary tests in the required time frame.

Q: What buildings will be affected this week? And is there an estimate on how long the shutdowns will last?

TR: All buildings which receive electrical service from the East Campus Substation will be affected (see outage list). In addition, there is a fairly low possibility that buildings receiving electrical service from the Avista South Campus Feeder (see outage list) could also be affected, as that power system is connected to the East Campus Substation feeder. The Test Plan will not result in planned outages on the South Campus Feeder, but unplanned outages could occur, dependant on test sequence results.

If things go well, the testing could be complete early; if there are significant problems, it could last all week and into the weekend.

Q: Is there something that faculty and staff should do if it’s scheduled for their building? (unplug computers, work at home that day, etc?)

TR: Once again, the weekday testing will be at night (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.), so daytime operations should not be hindered by the testing.

Equipment should be shut down at the end of each days work to prevent potential problems from multiple restarts during the night.

Chemicals should be placed in chemical storage cabinets at night as fume hoods will shut off when power is lost and some may fail to restart when power returns.

Researchers utilizing electrical power for process control or data acquisition should consider the effect of power outages and utilize backup power supplies if necessary to maintain research conditions.

If there are special concerns or needs in a facility, Rodger Small (335-1118) of Capital Planning and Development, should be contacted for assistance.

Q: When will the new energy system be up and online campuswide?

TR: After the new GWSP goes on-line in May, the Life Safety Feeder 13 will be reconfigured to feed from the East Campus Substation. The new electrical generation system will be fully functional at that time.

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