Make us your home page

Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Electric prepares for big power demand by 2012 Republican National Convention



TAMPA — To get an idea of the scale of next year’s Republican National Convention, consider its appetite for electricity.

For a big Tampa Bay Lightning game, with a sell-out crowd and maybe a concert outside, the St. Pete Times Forum uses about 4 megawatts of power.

But when the Republicans come to town, the forum could need more than twice that. And the entire convention-media complex could require up to 19 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 7,600 homes.

No problem, says Tampa Electric, which has 40 people working on convention planning.

The utility is confident it can deliver the extra power needed and is working to ensure that no one, regular customers included, sees the lights flicker the week of Aug. 27, 2012.

“We’re good to go,” said Brock Blackmore, one of three Tampa Electric project managers for the convention. “Our goal is to provide safe, reliable service on a worldwide stage.”

More than a year out, Tampa Electric has maintenance patrols checking its overhead and underground lines. It plans to use infrared sensors to check for hot spots that reveal a piece of equipment with bad connections.

“If it needs to be changed out, we’ll be changing it out,” Blackmore said.

Tampa Electric also is talking to the GOP and its counterparts in past host cities to determine the Tampa convention’s needs.

The St. Pete Times Forum, where the delegates will name their party’s nominee, could need an estimated 8 to 9 megawatts, according to the Republican Party’s Committee on Arrangements.

Tampa Electric is set up to provide 6 megawatts to the forum. Going to eight would require installing additional equipment, such as a transformer.

“We do have to charge them for that,” Blackmore said, but “there’s definitely not an issue with giving them eight.”

Another 6 megawatts could be needed for the Tampa Convention Center, the working hub for 13,000 to 15,000 journalists — triple the number for the Super Bowl.

Organizers do not pick these estimates out of the air.

“Everything points to the last night when there’s peak usage,” said Mike Miller, the chief operating officer for the Committee on Arrangements. “We figure if we’ve got that night covered, we’ve got everything covered.”

Electrical usage on the last night of the GOP’s 2000 convention in Philadelphia peaked at more than 16 megawatts. Factor in a 20 percent reserve, and that produces the 19 megawatt estimate.

But Tampa might not need as much power as Philadelphia did. For one thing, Philadelphia had media scattered out in some 300 trailers and even tents.

At the 2008 convention in St. Paul, Minn., most of the major television networks said they were tired of working out of trailers. So they agreed to use less space if they could work indoors.

That trend is expected to continue in Tampa. Plus, it’s just more efficient to provide electricity inside a building that already has it than to distribute it to temporary villages of trailers, Miller said.

In St. Paul, Xcel Energy had been told to expect demand in the 12- to 14-megawatt range.

But the weather was great, mild and dry, and peak demand topped out at just over 9 megawatts, with no glitches.

“We joked that we were hoping to have the biggest non-event since Y2K, and we did,” said Joel Limoges, manager of distribution engineering for Xcel Energy in Minnesota.

The only blip was when a piece of equipment fueled by natural gas lost its pilot light and had to be relit, Limoges said. Here, Tampa Electric is coordinating its plans with Peoples  Gas but does not expect a significant increase in the demand for natural gas.

As in St. Paul, Tampa Electric’s engineers are working to break down their plan, anticipate trouble and have people and gear in place if there’s a problem.

Xcel Energy had a trailer inside the convention’s security perimeter, with technicians ready to go. Tampa Electric plans the same.

That’s because if the lights go out, the Secret Service will only tighten access to the convention.

“If the power’s out and you show up with a big truck with a big green thing on the back of it, the chances of you getting through the secured perimeter are extremely low,” Limoges said.

But the security perimeter is not the only place Tampa Electric needs to think about.

Some of the nearly 100 potential venues for convention events may want to go green, with their electricity coming from biomass and solar generation. We can do that, Tampa Electric says.

Plus, prominent Tampa residents may host big parties at their homes, maybe with air-conditioned tents on the lawn. That could require coordinating with Tampa Electric for an upgrade in service.

Finally, with the convention scheduled for late August, organizers have to think about Tampa Bay’s near-daily thunderstorms.

Organizers say they expect to be ready.

Not only will Tampa Electric’s on-site equipment be fully grounded, but it has two substations in the area available to serve the convention.

If lightning knocks out one, Tampa Electric can quickly switch the event’s power supply to the other circuit.

And at some point, the GOP will decide whether to have backup generators ready, as it did in St. Paul and at its 2004 convention in New York.

Generators, contingency plans, a ready supply of sufficient power — all are part of the huge playbook that goes with planning a national political convention.

On the Friday before the convention, organizers traditionally ask everyone to turn on every piece of equipment they would ever use, just to be sure nothing was overlooked.

“It’s just one of those things that you have to plan meticulously,” Miller said. “It always does work, but it doesn’t work if you just go in and say, 'Turn on the power.’ ”

[Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 5:42pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours