Did You Know a Syracuse Hospital is Generating its Own Power?

May 19, 2017

The natural gas-fed turbine and generator are inside this unit.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

St. Joseph’s hospital is basking in the glow of two recent state and national awards for generating its own electricity.  WAER's Scott Willis decided to find out how its $15 million on-site co-generation plant works.

The plant sounds like a jet engine...because it basically is.  St. Joe's mechanical engineer Ed Grabowski describes what it does...

"Gas and air come into that far end, there's a jet engine that burns the gas, drives the generator, our power comes off of here, and its distributed to various parts of the hospital."

Grabowski says the very hot exhaust from the turbine is then piped in to a heat recovery steam generator.

"There's water that passes through there, and as it goes past the hot exhaust, it generates steam."

This is heat recovery steam generator, which heats water and provides heat and air conditioning for the hospital.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

The steam is used to make hot water and heat cool the facility.  Grabowski says the combination of electricity generated by the turbine and the steam from the exhaust means they’re not buying much electricity from a utility.

"We typically are operating in the range of 95 percent.  When you buy electricity from National Grid, their generating to line losses to delivered power runs about 50 percent.  That's where the biggest savings some in because we're generating our own electricity right here on site."

Grabowski says they still have National Grid as a back-up, and they do have to purchase more electricity during the summer months to meet demand.  Even then, he says, they’re still meeting 80 percent of their needs, and saving $1 million a year in utility costs.  But Grabowski says the decision to spend $15 million on its own power plant goes beyond saving money.   He says it makes doctors and patients happy…

Operators remotely monitor plant operations, keeping an eye on steam and gas pressures, temperatures, and electricity generation.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

"In the past, if we lost power from the grid, we had to stop any surgeries that were underway because the department of health won't let you perform surgeries just on a generator.  So they would close up and stop a cardiac or other procedure."

Not only that, Grabowski says, the hospital didn’t have a choice.   National Grid didn’t have the capacity to provide the growing hospital any more electricity.

"We wouldn't be able to get the additional electricity we needed for any additional expansions at the hospital unless we brought in a new service.  That was going to cost in the neighborhood of about $20 million."

Compare that to the $15 million for the co-generation plant, and the $1 million  in annual savings, Grabowski says the three-year-old facility will pay for itself in about 10 years.  

St. Joe's received the Jeffrey J. Zogg Build NY Award from the NYS Associated General Contractors at at ceremony this week in Albany.  In March, the co-generation plant received one of only three national Vista Awards from the American Hospital Association's American Society for Healthcare Engineering.

Mechanical Engineer Ed Grabowski stands in front of the turbine and generator. Note the power distribution lines above.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News