Tampa General Hospital's new $53-million central energy plant ensures continual power - even in a hurricane
by Art Levy
With Tampa General Hospital embarking on a $550-million construction plan that includes multiple components, from 12 new operating rooms to a 2,000-space parking garage, the hospital chose to address one crucial element early on: Making sure that — no matter the weather or the condition of Tampa’s electrical grid — it would never lose power.
Now, with its new $53-million central energy plant, the hospital will be able to generate its own electricity indefinitely.
Previously, the hospital’s emergency power supply consisted primarily of four 1.5-megawatt diesel-powered generators, which could supply electricity to the 1,041-bed hospital campus for up to five days before needing more diesel. The central energy plant, which went online this spring, adds four 2.5-megawatt generators, one diesel and three powered by natural gas.
“We did that on purpose so that we have redundancy of fuel sources in addition to equipment redundancy, so if we got in a scenario where there was a massive hurricane and we could not get fuel refills on campus, we would still have half of our power that would run on natural gas through a pipeline underground,” says Dustin Pasteur, Tampa General’s vice president of facilities construction. “As far as run time, we can run the natural gas generators in perpetuity.”
For Pasteur, it was important to get the equipment for the project but also important to protect that equipment from storm surge and high winds in the event of tropical weather. The hospital is located just eight feet above sea level on an island in Hillsborough Bay, and parts of the hospital are just 20 or 30 yards from the bay.
So the plant is elevated 33 feet off the ground — “crazy high,” says Pasteur — and is “built like a fortress” to protect the generators and other equipment from Category 5 hurricanes. The connections between the plant and the hospital also are elevated and guarded against the weather.
“All of this is to protect the patients and staff,” Pasteur says. “We are a Level 1 trauma center. We’re one of the most specialized hospitals in this region of the country, and what that means for us is we cannot evacuate because there's nobody that can take the number of critically ill patients that we have here. So even if we had three or four days’ notice and we wanted to evacuate, there's no way to move and nowhere to place all those patients. I’ve been here almost 13 years, and every one of those years we’ve put in more and more infrastructure to protect the campus from flooding and to increase our power generation capabilities with the mindset that we are going to protect our patients on this island no matter what because nobody else can take care of them like we can.”