Food, Shelter and a Microgrid: A Florida Non-profit Readies for the Next Big Hurricane

Nov. 21, 2019
Metropolitan Ministries Foundation in Tampa, Fla., is ready for the next hurricane season — and the thousands of people it may need to feed and shelter — thanks to a new Power Secure microgrid.

A Tampa, Florida ministries is ready for the next hurricane season — and the thousands of people it may need to feed and shelter — thanks to a new PowerSecure microgrid.

Working with PowerSecure and the Tampa Electric (TECO), Metropolitan Ministries Foundation late last week inaugurated a microgrid designed to enable the organization to continue to serve its community, even through severe storms.

The microgrid project had its roots in 2017 when Hurricane Irma was barreling toward Tampa. As it turned out, Tampa did not experience a direct hit from Irma, but Metropolitan Ministries’ main campus and much of the region suffered from flooding and lost power for four days or more.

The morning after, families came to Metropolitan Ministries and lined up looking for help. Metropolitan Ministries was forced to operate in the dark with a mobile kitchen in the parking lot in order to feed community members and residents and keep them safe.

“It took us a little bit by surprise how much the people and city depend on us,” Justine Burke, the organization’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement. “Many couldn’t just evacuate or go to a hotel for a week because they could not afford it. When we showed up to work the next day, there was a huge line of people outside of our Outreach Center, waiting for us to help them.”

Backup generators too expensive

In the following days, Metropolitan Ministries served more than 4,000 hot meals to local families and provided thousands of ‘meals, ready-to-eat’ (MREs) to area families. The non-profit organization also sheltered many displaced families, as well as the more than 100 families already residing at the facility. On average, Metropolitan Ministries provides services to 30,000 families and homeless individuals.

“We had portable generators all over the place, many loaned by volunteers,” Burke says. “We charged our phones on those generators and ran the refrigerators, but it was really more of a reactionary plan.”

It was at that point that the board of directors asked the staff of Metropolitan Ministries to explore options for adding permanent emergency power to better prepare for the next extended outage.

There was some discussion about installing a backup generator, but it was going to cost about $250,000 just to serve the kitchen

“We just didn’t have that funding for a generator,” Mark Rios, Metropolitan Ministries’ vice president of real estate, said in a statement. Then a board member suggested the organization contact PowerSecure.

PowerSecure was able to propose a microgrid system for Metropolitan Ministries that was 20% less expensive than systems from other installers, Jackie Neese, the company’s manager of marketing and communications, said. “We were able to do that because of our relationship with TECO.”

PowerSecure has not disclosed the price of the system, but it was structured on a lease basis with an option to buy it after 15 years.

The microgrid itself was configured for Metropolitan Ministries with a single point of contact with the grid and advanced paralleling switchgear. The system includes a tier 4, 625 kV diesel engine with the ability to isolate from the grid automatically in the instance of an outage or when it is called upon by TECO for load management.

Photo courtesy: PowerSecure

Microgrid acts as non-spinning reserve

The Metropolitan Ministries microgrid operates as part of TECO’s demand response program. “It is TECO’s insurance policy,” Michael Ammerman, director of the distributed generation program development at PowerSecure, a subsidiary of Southern Company, said. “It is a non-spinning reserve substitute for spinning reserves.”

So, instead of overbuilding its system with more peaking power plants, TECO can call on the diesel engine and other microgrids PowerSecure has set up in Florida. Those diesels can ramp up to peak load in 10 seconds and synch up with the grid in 15 to 20 seconds, Ammerman said. When TECO uses the diesel engine, TECO gives Metropolitan Ministries a credit on its bill.

The microgrid also gives Metropolitan Ministries 100% resilience, “almost 200% based on the average load profile of the entire campus,” which occupies a couple of city blocks, Ammerman said. In addition, the tier 4 diesel is 93% cleaner than a gas turbine on eight of nine of 9 hazardous pollutants, Ammerman said. Tier 4 diesel standards are the strictest that the Environmental Protection Agency has for off-highway diesel engines.

“Now, Metropolitan Ministries’ reach will be much larger, more people will be able to come to them in times of trouble.” — Jackie Neese, PowerSecure

The Metropolitan Ministries microgrid went live in October. PowerSecure demonstrated the microgrid by islanding the system. “It was completely transparent and seamless,” Neese said. “Now, Metropolitan Ministries’ reach will be much larger, more people will be able to come to them in times of trouble.”

TECO, for its part, bids the resources of microgrids such as the one at Metropolitan Ministries as part of the capacity reserve for its resource plan that is filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp.

PowerSecure has at least 100 MW of microgrid resources in TECO’s service area and 750 MW in Florida, Ammerman said.

“This is not our typical microgrid solution or customer profile,” Neese said. More typical PowerSecure’s customers are large hospitals, airports and large data centers. The company has installed microgrids for several hospitals in the area, as well as for Publix grocery stores. But Metropolitan Ministries presented “a terrific opportunity,” Neese said. “It supports so many people in the Tampa area.”

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About the Author

Peter Maloney

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