Santa Rosa, CA – September 30, 2021 – Bolstering its ability to deliver essential services to the public during emergencies, the County of Sonoma has completed the first phase of an initiative to install 13 large generators at major evacuation centers and other important public facilities.
The county’s Department of General Services and District 3 Supervisor Chris Coursey marked the completion of the initiative’s first stage with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. The event celebrated the recently completed installation of a 100-kilowatt generator to supply the county’s largest evacuation center with electricity during power outages.
Earlier this year, the Department of General Services installed 80-kilowatt generators at veterans halls in Petaluma and Sonoma. Together with the veterans hall in Santa Rosa, all three facilities play critical roles in providing shelter, electricity, internet access and other services to the public during emergencies.
A barrage of fires, power shut-offs and flooding in Sonoma County over the last five years have underscored the need for permanent generators built into key facilities. Mobile generators are often scarce during emergencies, prompting the County of Sonoma to procure permanent generators to ensure it can provide reliable, uninterrupted electricity to high-priority public facilities.
“Evacuation centers, like the Veterans Memorial Building, provide safe havens for the public during emergencies. We have made this strategic investment to ensure they can keep the lights on during blackouts,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, who presided over the dedication of a new generator completed last week at the Petaluma veterans hall.
As part of the initiative’s $1.5 million first stage, the County purchased permanent generators and made electrical upgrades and other vital improvements to the veterans buildings in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma, which are designated evacuation centers during emergencies. These buildings, which were constructed after World War II, also serve as important hubs for the county’s veterans, providing a place for fellowship, support and outreach.
The county also installed a permanent generator at its Transportation and Public Works yard in Santa Rosa during the initial phase. Future projects are slated to bring generators to the veterans hall in Cloverdale and eight other county facilities. They include the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office headquarters; the passenger terminal at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport; county Transportation and Public Works yards in Forestville and Annapolis; two county Information Systems offices; the offices of the county Clerk-Recorder-Assessor; and the county Department of General Services’ Heavy Fleet Division, which provides essential support services during disasters. The Board of Supervisors has approved more than $5 million in funding for four of the eight projects, including nearly $3 million to replace the aging generator that supplies emergency power to the Sheriff’s Office and 911 dispatch center. The new 750-kilowatt generator, almost twice the size of the existing generator, will be capable of providing electricity to the entire Sheriff’s Office building during peak events. The Department of General Services is developing costs and identifying funding for the remaining four projects.
The Department of General Services is actively seeking funding for the initiative through a variety of disaster and resiliency grants, including federal Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grants and other funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as via the county’s general fund.
Diesel-powered generators were installed at the veterans buildings as a first step toward grid independence and reliable backup power during emergencies, said Caroline Judy, director of the Department of General Services. However, she notes the County is actively searching for cleaner, more environmentally friendly sources of emergency power and evaluating opportunities to use greener fuel cell or solar/battery backup systems as alternatives to diesel generators. Other facilities, such as communications towers, may be more appropriate for certain applications, especially for Proton Membrane Exchange type fuel cells.
“Technology advances and legislative support for green resilience have advanced dramatically since 2017,” said Judy. “We are very committed to achieving the climate action goals in the County’s five-year strategic plan, which will put us on track to become carbon neutral by 2030.”