The big building is getting all of the attention, all the fuss.

The 11-story edifice towers over the adjacent one-story central energy plant at the new Sanford Medical Center Fargo with gothic style architecture, after all.

Story, photos reprinted from Minnkota

Story, photos reprinted from Minnkota

The central energy plant is about one-tenth of the total size of a much-anticipated, new $494 million medical center complex, which opened July 2017.

Yet nothing is more important to the operation of the hospital than the 90,000-plus-square-foot power plant. Everything starts in this building. All the electrical, cooling and heating, water treatment, med gas and med air and water softening is shipped through a 250-foot underground tunnel over to the hospital next door.

What James Durben, Sanford Health director of building services, likes most about the new central energy plant is the integrity of the electrical system from Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC), one of the 11 distribution cooperatives in the Minnkota Power Cooperative system.

“Cass County Electric worked with us to provide the two separate feeds coming into the plant. That probably wouldn’t have had to happen, but working together with CCEC and the architects, engineers and our group, it was provided,” Durben said. “We don’t have that type of redundancy anywhere else. We are typically provided one electrical feed originating directly from one substation. At our new campus, we have two feeds coming in from two separate substations; that to me is impressive. On the power side, our focus was on a reliable, redundant power source with a secondary focus on cost.”

Reliable electricity is important considering the advanced technology incorporated throughout the 1-million-square-foot facility. The laboratory, operating rooms and procedure rooms include state-of-the-art digital communication systems. The 284-bed facility includes an emergency department, family birth center, children’s hospital, brain and spine surgery, heart surgery and cardiology, and trauma surgery.

Needed infrastructure

The CCEC Veterans Substation will be the primary power source for the new Sanford facility. If that substation has an outage, Sanford has redundant service from the Grager substation. The switch from one substation to the other occurs in less than one second and is automatic upon an outage.

With electricity demand in the Fargo and West Fargo region increasing by almost 50 percent in the last decade, other major electrical system upgrades have been necessary. CCEC has added about 16,000 members during that time – the largest of which is the Sanford facility.

Minnkota Power and CCEC responded, building the Veterans Substation and upgrading many of the other substations in the Fargo area. Additionally, the majority of Minnkota’s 69-kilovolt (KV) transmission system is being upgraded to 115-KV. All told, it will be a $30 million investment to improve electric reliability and help meet the growing demand for electricity in the region.

As a medical facility, Sanford is required to have emergency power restored within 10 seconds upon a power outage. With three backup generators, it can produce full power generation for use during storm avoidance and off-peak control as well as during an outage.

Sanford’s generators are each 2.5 megawatts (MW). As a result, the hospital can generate 7.5 MW of emergency power. Sanford participates in CCEC’s demand response program, so it can take advantage of lower rates from CCEC during times of peak demand.

“I’ve been involved with a facility that did not have full backup and lost power, creating a situation where physicians and clinical staff were not able to continue providing non-emergent care and services for patients,” Durben said. “It’s not an acceptable approach to providing 24/7 health care. An emergency power supply is a minimum requirement and full power backup is our standard.”

Durben said the new hospital should be a 5- to 6-MW load. That would put them as the No. 2 load on the CCEC system, behind a pipeline pumping station near Fort Ransom.

“It is definitely a big deal for us, a nice load, a nice facility,” said Chad Brousseau, CCEC manager for energy management.

Beginning this spring, the Sanford Medical Center campus will also be featuring electric vehicle charging stations, as part of an initiative it is undertaking with CCEC and the Lignite Energy Council. These charging stations are available to the public and are free to use.

In conjunction with Minnkota Power, CCEC is currently offering its members a special off-peak electric rate for electric vehicle charging and one-time rebates for the installation of qualifying chargers.

Article courtesy of Minnkota Power Cooperative, Grand Forks.