The American Samoa Power Authority opened a new operations center last week as part of a more resilient power infrastructure system in American Samoa.
A dedication ceremony was held July 7 for the $7 million, 12,000-square-foot operations center at the American Samoa Power Authority’s compound in the village of Tafuna near Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa.
In 2009, an earthquake struck the South Pacific, causing 20-foot-high waves that surged a mile inland and caused severe damage to American Samoa’s electricity generating facility, knocking out power in some areas for several months.
“The immediate impact of the tsunami was significant for the American Samoa Power Authority, as its operations center was down for weeks while it worked to restore power and provide associated operational support to the island,” said Gene Albano, managing director of WSP USA’s building practice in Hawaii.
American Samoa, a group of seven islands located about 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii, was declared a major disaster area by the U.S. government as a result of the tsunami, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding, government resources and military personnel were mobilized to assist in the recovery.
But even after power was restored to the islands, it became evident that American Samoa needed to establish a more resilient power system, and the Authority received a $3.73 million FEMA grant to develop a more robust facility and infrastructure capable of withstanding damage from natural disasters.
“It was clear that, should a similar tsunami or cyclone hit the island, the existing facility would be vulnerable again,” Albano said. “As a result, FEMA provided grants to help with the recovery and plan for the future by upgrading the island’s utility facilities, which includes the new operations center.”
WSP provided mechanical-electrical-plumbing (MEP) engineering for the project, as well as built ecology services. As project manager for WSP, Albano worked with Mark Lively of Lively Architects, and Joachim Fong, the Authority’s project manager, to design and rebuild the facility. Construction began in November 2014 and was handled by Paramount Builders, a local construction firm. The Authority has also retained the same design team to replace the adjacent sentry building using a similar architectural theme.
The new operations facility uses energy-efficient MEP systems that include a 110-kilowatt photovoltaic array on the building roof to capture solar energy, variable refrigerant flow air-conditioning, a rain catchment system for flushing toilets, light-emitting diode (LED) lighting and daylight sensors.
WSP played an integral role in helping the Authority create a net-positive power building through the use of energy-efficient lighting and heating-ventilation-air conditioning systems, and supporting the Authority’s commitment to renewable power through the use of photovoltaics.
But when planning for the operations facility began in June 2013, there were some questions as to whether or not it was realistic to create a building that would be capable of generating more energy than it used.
“At first, the architect and the Authority did not feel confident a net-positive building was achievable,” Albano said. “But with WSP’s experience on similar projects, we were able to demonstrate how the building could successfully provide additional power to their customers, and that this building would become an example of energy efficiency that would give them a wonderful story to tell.”
The building was designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. When certified, it will be the second such building in American Samoa, and the first certified net-positive energy building.
“The project was originally going to be built as a conventional building, but having learned of the Authority’s commitment to renewable energy, it was a natural question for us to ask if they were open to having the building be holistically constructed with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind,” Albano said. “LEED Platinum certification will provide a formal validation of the client’s commitment to renewable energy.”
Albano believes the success of this building will impact future facilities in American Samoa.
“This building has set the bar higher for future American Samoa high-performance buildings to emulate,” he said. “WSP is being considered to serve in a similar role on another government building project that also hopes to be net positive.”
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