County of Marin - News Releases - Backup Power

For Immediate Release
January 14, 2020

County Explores Backup Power Options

Essential County services must be provided even during power outages

San Rafael, CA – With the first series of Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s (PG&E) preemptive electrical power outages behind it, the County of Marin is moving forward with a robust assessment of its power infrastructure so it can continue to provide essential services to residents and help ensure public safety during a disaster or disruption in service.

A building maintenance worker checks the diesel-powered generator at the Marin County Civic Center.An emergency generator at the Marin County Civic Center dates to the 1960s.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors heard an overview of recent evaluations on emergency backup power needs during its January 14 regular session. The presentation came after PG&E’s public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events in October and November 2019, unplugging nearly all Marin residents for days. Many of Marin’s most vulnerable residents were placed in danger, particularly those who rely on power for their medical devices in order to live. 

Initially the County plans to install power transfer switches and other improvements at Marin Center, which served as a temporary emergency shelter during the October PSPS event, housing more than 600 evacuees from the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. The two PSPS incidents were prompted by a combination of dry conditions, high winds and low humidity that resulted in ominous wildfire conditions – the type that have led to fatal and devastating wildfires throughout California over the past several years.

“Our changing climate is a major factor causing increased wildfire risk, with nearly year-round fire seasons,” said outgoing Board President Kate Sears. “Marin Center has served as an emergency shelter twice in recent years for out-of-county fire evacuees. With PG&E’s PSPS program now increasing our risk, we need to be proactive to protect Marin.” 

After consulting with the County Administrator’s Office and Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services, Department of Public Works (DPW) contracted Kitchell Inc. to perform assessments of the backup power needs across key facilities. Kitchell already was in the process of evaluating the Marin Center’s electrical needs prior to the PSPS events and was brought in to facilitate the assessment.

Kitchell’s report will identify needed improvements at other key County facilities providing public services in addition to the Marin Center, particularly the infrastructure required for the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to function effectively in emergency situations.

“The detailed assessment by Kitchell will essentially guide our priorities moving forward for electrical improvements with regard to emergency preparedness,” said Dorren Hill, DPW Capital Planning & Project Manager.

The assessment also includes the 470,000 square-foot Marin County Civic Center, which has backup generators built in the 1960s. Although they are tested regularly and fully operational, they cannot keep all departments in the building functioning normally with today’s level of technology requirements.

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office and Marin County Fire Department are both headquartered away from the Civic Center and have separate sources of backup power. The Sheriff’s Office is at 1600 Los Gamos Drive in northern San Rafael, and the Fire Department is based in Woodacre.

The Community Development Agency (CDA), minding goals of the County’s Climate Action Plan, will contribute to the power assessment as well. HHS is playing a key role and developing efficient emergency protocols, including assessment and safeguarding of residents’ medical needs during wildfires, power shutoff events, or other disasters.

The County will prioritize its backup power upgrades at these key facilities following Kitchell’s assessment, detailing multiple options and associated costs. Choices may range from installing power transfer switches to allow for potential mobile generator hookups, such as the one being installed at the Marin Center, to higher up-front cost investments such as solar panels with battery packs and even fully integrated backup generator systems which may have long term financial benefits.

Contact:

Cam Isaza
Capital Planning and Senior Project Manager
Public Works

3501 Civic Center Drive
#304
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-7176
Email: Cam Isaza
Public Works website