retailers embrace floridas generator law

Hurricane havoc forces mandate for backup power at gas stations, and other states may adopt similar legislation.

By Joe Bahnatka, Contributing Editor

After a hurricane sweeps across Florida, the state wants to keep gas pumps as busy as a department store on Black Friday. Keeping nozzles in gas tanks, however, requires electricity, which often times is unavailable for days or weeks during a hurricane’s aftermath.

But a new state law is changing that. It requires gas stations located along evacuation routes in the Sunshine State to have backup power to pump fuel so residents can flee natural disasters before they occur and return after they pass.

The law, which could be adopted by other states, also ensures that first responders,such as police officers, fire departments and power company crews who work throughdisasters, can get the gasoline they need to do their jobs. Residents who ‘toughit out’ and would also be able to get gas, milk and other essentials when theyneed them most. Call it lessons learned from hard experience.

It would be natural for retailers that operate the 9,600 convenience stores and gas stations in Florida to resent governmental intrusion. After all, the new law requires them to spend up to $45,000 or more on backup generators, power transfer switches and other hardware. But that’s not the case. They practically welcome the law. In fact, they helped craft it.

Jim Smith, president and chief executive of the Florida Petroleum Marketersand Convenience Store Association, was one of the measure’s biggest supporters.”Members have a responsibility to their communities and part of that responsibilityis to comply with the law,” he said.

About 15% of the association’s members already had installed backup power before the law passed.

The group, which represents about 60% of the gasoline retail outlets in the state, suggests that members go beyond the law. Since not all retail outlets are along evacuation routes, “members can decide whether retail outlets in urban areas, for example, warrant alternate power,” Smith said.

Carl Berner, president of Berner Oil Co. in Clewiston, Fla., couldn’t agree more.

“It’s all about protecting people,” he said.

Berner, a thirdgeneration owner of the business, is close to the communityand considers the business a good neighbor. The company owns eight stations,including a truck stop, and supplies 40 more. The truck stop sports a $45,000backup power system and “might be the only way for some people in the communityto get gas after a disaster,” he said. “We’re prepared to move people.”

Ernesto: A Not So Friendly Reminder

“We went through a preparedness drill before Ernesto and thankfully that’sall it was,” Berner said. But it underscored the value of the recently passedlaw.

Fuel dealers and distributors need to install backup power by June 1, 2007 in existing stations that meet the law’s criteria. It’s a narrow window. “It’s a timing thing,” Berner said. “Not enough information is out there yet.”

Dealers need to better understand what they must do. “They need clarification on which routes are for evacuation,” Berner added. “They need 12 months to get up to speed, then Florida will be well, well prepared.”

Dealers also need to know how the law specifically may affect their businesses. The law stipulates that each motor fuel terminal facility and each wholesaler that sells motor fuel in Florida, must be capable of operating from an alternate generated power source for a minimum of 72 hours.

If that equipment is damaged, an alternate generating source must be available within 36 hours. Owners need to have a certified electrical contractor install wiring, including a transfer switch.

New and substantially renovated retail outlets need to be pre-wired with an appropriate transfer switch and capable of operating all fuel pumping systems and payment equipment using backup power.

Generally speaking, outlets located within a half-mile of an interstate highway or federally designated evacuation route must be wired with a power transfer switch. Specifically, retail outlets need to be pre-wired depending on the county in which they’re located and their number of fueling positions. Outlets need to be pre-wired if they have:

  • Sixteen or more fueling positions and are in a county with a populationof 300,000;
  • Twelve or more fueling positions and are in a county of 100,000 to 300,000;or
  • Eight or more positions and are in county of 100,000 or less.

Additionally, retailers that own 10 or more gas stations in a single countyneed to maintain at least one portable generator for every 10 outlets. Generatorsmay be stationary or portable and must be available for use within 24 hours.Operators must document proper installation and maintain a written statementconfirming periodic testing. Florida’s Division of Emergency Management andthe director of the county emergency management agency can request to reviewall paperwork.

Dealers tend to favor portable generators that can be towed to whichever of their retail outlets need them. Transfer switches, however, must be installed in each outlet covered by the law.

Specific Guidelines
The law specifies an “appropriate transfer switch,”an important distinction. Not all switches are listed to Underwriters Laboratories(UL) 1008 standard, the only true standard for power transfer switches.

Unfortunately, a considerable number of products that are being called transfer switches have never been tested to the stringent criteria contained in UL 1008, even though these products may prominently display a UL label on their packaging and on the switch enclosure. They’re listed to a UL standard for products, such as lighting contactors and service disconnect switches. That’s a problem, perhaps for dealers.

It could be argued that installing transfer switches that have not complied with UL 1008 is a violation of the National Electrical Code, which requires that products be tested and listed-only for their intended use. Only a UL label that specificallystates “Automatic Transfer Switch,” “Transfer and Bypass-Isolation Switch” or “Non-Automatic Transfer Switch” is positive proof of compliance with UL 1008.

Unless a transfer switch is evaluated and complies with the criteria in UL 1008, it can be wholly unfit for service. When pressed into the service it was ostensibly intended to perform, these switches can destroy the generator to which they are connected, cause a fire, or both. The potential liability issues arising from this situation are enough to raise goose bumps on the arms of electrical inspectors.

Dealers may decide not to take the risk. They can protect themselves by making certain that their electrical contractor installs only transfer switches that have the UL 1008 label.

Joe Bahnatka is the marketing manager for ASCO Services Inc. (ASI),a technical services firm headquartered in Florham Park, N.J. He can be reachedat (973) 966-2150 or at jbahnatka@asco.com

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