Camas Plays It Safe

Sept. 28, 2010

Like many expanding suburbs, Camas, WA, faced the problem of how to update an aging infrastructure — in particular, its sewage collection system — to meet the needs of the city's growing population.

Like many expanding suburbs, Camas, WA, faced the problem of how to update an aging infrastructure — in particular, its sewage collection system — to meet the needs of the city's growing population.

Located on the north bank of the Columbia River, adjacent to Portland and Vancouver, WA, this ecologically sensitive town couldn't risk any kind of sewage backup, which was a real possibility if the electric utility serving its several lift stations failed. To increase reliability and safety, the city specified that each new lift station include a standby power generator.

For most of its history, Camas (population: 15,000) relied on gravity-fed lift stations to propel sewage to the treatment plant. But by the 1970s, Camas had grown up, over and beyond Prune Hill, a ridge to the north, and pressure systems became a necessity.

"We had eight or nine older lift stations and they had all been designed differently, making them time-consuming for our crews to maintain and repair," said Jim Dickinson, wastewater operations supervisor for the city of Camas. "Since about 2003 we have been retrofitting existing lift stations and installing new ones in new subdivisions and developments. The new lift stations are pre-engineered and include a Cummins Power Generation standby power generator." Camas has a total of 20 lift stations; of those, seven are brand new.

Camas city engineers set several requirements when they began replacing the lift stations. Reliability, easy maintenance and consistency of design and performance were on top of the list. Each lift station is pre-engineered by Romtec Utilities, Roseburg, OR, to meet those requirements.

A pre-engineered lift station includes a wet well, two or three submersible pumps, piping, liquid level sensors, underground valve vault, electric pump controls, standby power generator and automatic transfer switch, and communication equipment. All components — including structural, mechanical, electrical, power generation, and communications — are pre-engineered, delivered as one package and installed in about a week. The result is consistency of design and equipment.

These benefits, plus speed of installation, led Romtec to choose Cummins Power Generation for its standby systems.

"We chose Cummins Power Generation for the same reason cities choose us," said Mark Sheldon, vice president for marketing and sales, Romtec Utilities. "They receive our requirements and respond quickly with the right generator set and transfer switch, and they make installation and maintenance very easy. Our systems pump lots of water against friction losses, dynamic head and other factors, and that requires a sharp analysis to specify the right size generator."

Critical Performance Parameters

The diesel-powered standby generator sets at the Camas lift stations range from 20 to 200 kilowatts and are either permanently installed or portable, trailer-mounted units. The power output specification depends primarily on the size of the pump at each lift station, which ranges from 11 to 35 horsepower. At the Hunter Ridge lift station, for example, twin pump motors require 39.6 kilowatts for starting and 22.5 kilowatts for running. All of the lift stations are required to run both pumps simultaneously if necessary. Besides pump motor horsepower and voltage, other critical performance parameters include starting current; motor efficiency rating; required auxiliary loads, such as generator set controls, lights, heaters, and odor control; ambient temperature range; elevation above sea level; anticipated growth in the area served by the lift station; and pollution control requirements.

From these parameters, Jim Stalnaker, sales manager with Cummins Northwest LLC, Portland, determines the engine, alternator and excitation system for each new lift station.

"Some generator sets need to be oversized to handle a motor's higher starting current," he said. "But oversizing can sometimes be avoided by specifying variable frequency drives or solid-state starters to reduce the inrush of current during starting."

Camas lift stations include Cummins Power Generation OTEC open transition transfer switches, which provide safe "break-before-make" power transfer from the grid to the generator and back again for both testing and power outages. Leaving a programmable gap of several seconds between power sources allows the back-EMF generated by the lift station's pump motors to fully dissipate, which is important to protect the generator set's alternator.

The time gap also allows the generator set to get up to operating speed and stabilize its output voltage. The gap between power sources can be programmed into the OTEC switch to accommodate the parameters of the motors and generator set in each specific lift station.

Unobtrusive but Protected

All of the Camas generator sets are installed in sound-attenuated enclosures so that they don't disturb the community.

"In addition to a low-noise requirement, another 'must' for the new lift stations is to use the smallest amount of space possible, sometimes just 1,000 square feet," Sheldon said.

Diesel-powered generator sets are installed where possible. Their efficiency reduces footprint and fuel storage requirements. However, natural gas and propane are also used as a fuel source if those fuels are readily available at the site.

Only after each lift station is installed does the real work begin for Camas wastewater operations staff. It's their job to maintain each of the lift stations; easy maintenance and high reliability help reduce the time they spend in the field.

"We rely on Cummins Power Generation not only to design, specify and install the generator, but also to train the operator," said Sheldon. "These combined factors give us the reliability to know that Camas will keep pumping, whether or not utility power is available."

Story courtesy of Cummins Power Generation, a subsidiary of Cummins Inc.