Wednesday, September 19, 2012 12:00 AM

New energy system helps clean air and save money

In move that will help clean the air and save money, Community Regional Medical Center is building a $30 million cogeneration plant to power its 58-acre downtown Fresno campus. The plant, due to be operational by the summer of 2013, uses natural gas to spin two giant turbines like jet engines to generate heat and electricity. 

The rendering of the new energy plant to be built this winter at Community Regional shows two gas-powered, four megawatt turbines.

“It will easily cut our costs per kilowatt hour of electricity in half, plus we’ll have free hot water and free steam,” said Dru Walker, Community’s director of facilities maintenance and construction. “It also allows us to turn off those old, high-pressure gas boilers we’re using. We’ll be helping the environment by reducing noxious emissions.”

In looking for ways to save money and produce greener energy, Community Medical Centers considered a solar system for the 626-bed hospital. “But a solar system to generate eight megawatts, would take 40 acres and $56 million to build,” said Steve Walter, Community’s chief financial officer.

The two turbines can generate eight megawatts of electricity – enough to supply 8,000 Fresno homes. It will power all of the Community Regional campus including the UCSF building, Deran Koligian outpatient clinics, two multi-story medical office buildings and a data center. “That’s a lot of electricity! On a hot summer day we typically use six megawatts,” Walker said.

Making electricity also provides the hospital and its patients with more energy assurance. “No more worries about blackouts,” said Walker. “It puts PG&E in a backup mode, with our generators as backup to them.”

Walker said the hospital expects to save $4 million a year on energy costs with the more efficient system, which also reduces Community Regional’s dependence on buying electricity from PG&E. And Community Regional may also qualify for millions in special tax credits for reducing its carbon footprint by using cleaner, more plentiful natural gas.

“We’re using the same cogeneration plant design as other local hospitals,” Walker explained. “This is proven technology.”

Community hopes to build another similar cogeneration plant at Clovis Community Medical Center after evaluating the energy usage after the hospital’s expansion is complete.

Erin Kennedy reported this story. She can be reached at