Sunday, February 19, 2012

Generator Glut?

17.5 KW DPW generator: Scrap metal.

The fiscal fallout from the freak Halloween weekend storm continues as department wish lists includes back up generators as part of their capital requests for the next fiscal year.

The Jones Library Trustees are seeking $105,000 for two units, one 500 KW unit @ $82,000  for the main downtown library and another 30 KW unit @ $23,000 for the tiny North Amherst branch plus another $20,000 for installation, for a grand total of $125,000.

Town Hall is slated for a $85,000 generator (a Town Manager request therefor a slam dunk), as key components of command and control are located there--namely the main wireless Internet routers,  with emitters sitting atop street lights--and tied into their power--around Town Hall.

When the power went off the night of the storm the downtown wi-fi went down, although the town website did not go dark, as the server is located in Holyoke. 

 Wi-fi emitter Spring Street Parking lot (uses power from streetlight)

The nearby Police Station, where 911 dispatch is located, has a generator which fortunately did its critical job during the extended outage.  The DPW was not as fortunate as their generator failed to function, but Mass Emergency Management Agency managed to get four rented generators delivered from a Springfield firm by Sunday late afternoon. 

The DPW is requesting $15,000 to replace that ailing unit with a new one in the 30 KW range.  Since DPW trucks were critical as first responders clearing the streets of snow and storm debris, and since gas pumps at the "the barn" require electricity to pump fuel, a working generator is--according to the itemized Capital Project Request--a "very high priority".

The generator at the Centennial Water Treatment Plant also doesn't work and is scheduled for replacement as part of a $4 million overhaul of the entire plant. On the day of the storm Centennial was off line and acting as a simple water tower to help keep pressure in the system.

A small booster pump (without generator back up) is the weak link. When that failed even light Sunday demand drew down water in the Centennial tank and, ominously, water pressure began to fall...

Luckily the Atkins Treatment Plant and Well #3 had working generators, otherwise town folks would have had to drink something other than water. 

Thirteen years ago in the hysterical run up to the new Millennium, then Town Manager Barry Del Castilho became overly influenced by a Happy Valley volunteer "Y2K Citizens Committee" chaired by a UMass secretary who relied on the early day Internet for research pointing to a doomsday scenario.

Del Castilho tried to browbeat the Finance Committee into using emergency reserve funds to finance a $60,000 back up generator for the downtown Bangs Community Center.  When that failed to spark enthusiasm, he talked the Select Board into placing the request as a stand alone article on the annual spring 1999 Town Meeting warrant.

In a rare rebuke for Del Castilho, the article fell short by a 20 vote margin, 81-61 (6/9/99) .  Of course New Year's Day 2000 dawned without airplanes falling out of the sky, and the power in downtown Amherst never faltered...until the night of October 29, 2011.

Like Bangs Community Center, the Jones Library does not have a generator--but then neither do the adjacent Ann Whalen Apartments or Clark House, subsidized rental units managed by the Amherst Housing Authority with a high concentration of senior citizens.  

 Jones Library 11/1/11
The North Amherst Library is not even worth considering because it's exceedingly small (under 1,000 square feet) and not ADA compliant.  The Jones Library is large and centrally located but no more so than the Amherst Police Department or Town Hall.
 Ann Whalen Apartments

When asked if Library officials have had a conversation with the Town Manager or other department heads to coordinate shared planning for emergencies like the October snowstorm, Library Director Sharon Sharry answered quietly, "No".

Safe to say the Joint Capital Planning Committee, or Town Meeting, will pull the plug on the Library's expensive wish.  And if it's that important to them, they can always tap their $7.5 million endowment. 

Amherst Bulletin Generator Column 1999  (back when I was a paid MSM journalist)


Anonymous said...

Town Hall yes. Jones? You've got to be kidding.

Sammy Jo said...

Sorry, but a generator for the Jones seems like a waste of money. I have no problem with getting generators for those buildings which require electricity in order to keep the town going, but the Jones? Absolutely not.

Anonymous said...

The Jone s Library doesn't need a generator. I don't think Town Hall needs one either. I would like to see it used at a fire department station, where you could have a central office, and a place where you could accomodate people for meals, etc.

Why does Town Hall need one?

Anonymous said...

The Library has lots of room for people trying to stay warm, for instance.

I don't think they want to spend the endowment. It's something about running out of money.

Anonymous said...

The fire stations each have generators which were purchaced within the past 5 years. The town hall should have a generator at it is the seat of government and is the site of the town's Emergency Operations Center (EOC),not to be confused with the dispatch center, which is located in the police station. The EOC is placed into operation in times of lagre scale emergency or disaster. This would have included the October snow storm, however there building that housed the EOC had no power and no go figure. Why the library would need an emergency generator is beyond me.

Jeff Parr

Ed said...

Ann Whalen has a generator -- it is located just to the left of that blue car in your photograph -- behind he brick ledge (so that everyone doesn't have to look at/listen to it.). It runs off the Natural Gas which I didn't like but if you lose gas you have lost heat anyway so you are going to have to evacuate anyway.

It can run the heating system, the public space lights and one (but not both) elevators. It is not intended to replace WMECO so tenant apartments, refrigerators and stoves won't work but no one was ever planning for a week-long blackout.

As to that tree, I wrote memos a decade ago as to how it was unsafe and ought to come down -- I am glad to see that it didn't land on the building, and hope that no one got hurt when it fell.

The AW generator used to be tested weekly -- run for an hour just to make sure it could do it, with some of the load shed over to it. It should have started, it should have run -- it definitely is there!!!!

Ed said...

The case for the library to have an emergency generator is if it was to be a warming station (as the UM Campus Center was) -- generator to power the lights and heat.

It does, however, make more sense for the Town Hall (or Police Station's Press conference room) to be so designated as such. There is a legitimate need for a place that is climate controlled (AC as well as heat, in the case of a hurricane) for people to go to post event.

There is also a need for such to be publicly designated as such NOW so people know -- how many people knew that UMass was opening up the Campus Center 24/7 for all the residents of Amherst???????

The stated priority is "protect and serve" -- and that means that citizen needs are more important than official needs excepting those essential to providing the latter. Sometimes, I think people forget that. (And why is the EOC not at the Police Station -- or better, DPW Garage as that is an isolated and distant location which would not be in the middle of any emergency affecting downtown. And both already have to be staffed and powered.)

A Chlorine tanker jumps the tracks at Main Street and flips over. You have to evacuate both your police station and your EOC.

Have the EOC at the DPW and you would still have use of it- it is more than a mile away. And if the tanker flips down there, you still have your police station. Redundancy.

One other thing that people don't think about emergency generators but which saves UMass a great deal of money -- If you are willing to switch over to emergency generators the few times a year that WMECO is in trouble and asks you to shed load because they have to -- you get a better electric rate for the rest of the year. AND it helps the environment because WMECO can count this ability as capacity and hence doesn't ahve to build a new plant that isn't running most of the time -- but polluting all of it.

Wondering said...

Hey, Ed has helpful info! Note the date (and read it if you usually skip him).

The town should probably plan where to have public warming or cooling places. If Town Hall is going to be open anyway, maybe they can have a plan for how to be an emergency relief space. I agree with Ed that it's not needed to have the library do that too, enough though its space is more suited to the task.