Critical Power

Don't let a disaster catch you off guard.

poultry farmer standing beside permanent generator
Walton County poultry grower Ricky Brown depends on his permanently installed backup generator to keep his chickens alive in the event of a power outage. “It’s saved me more than once,” says Brown. That’s because he has mere minutes until birds start dying from the lack of proper ventilation in the event of an outage. Brown has professional generator technicians inspect and service his generator twice a year. He also stores fuel under a roof that keeps rain off the diesel tank.

If your livelihood depends on electric power, it’s essential that you have a backup electricity source.

Although your co-op consistently achieves 99.99 percent yearly reliability, a catastrophic ice or tropical storm could still leave you without power for an extended time. If you’re not prepared, that catastrophe could extend to your wallet.

“A power outage to an enclosed, controlled- environment poultry house can result in massive bird loss within minutes,” says Tim Morris, Walton EMC technical services director. “The situation gets more critical the closer the flock gets to market age.”

That means even a short duration outage on a hot summer day – a car-power pole accident, for example – can set things awry in a hurry.

Greenhouse operations are also at risk if heat for young or tender plants is lost during an ice storm. But it’s not just down-on-the-farm businesses that should consider stand-by power systems.

Brick-and-mortar retail as well as internet businesses that depend on computers can experience a substantial economic hit due to a prolonged power outage.

“An emergency power system can pay for itself in just one instance,” says Morris. “It’s cheap insurance that can prevent economic turmoil.”

Turn to a Pro

Installing a backup power system for a critical load is not a do-it-yourself job; it’s well beyond the abilities of anyone who’s not a licensed electrician. Here are a few factors the qualified professional you choose should consider:

  • Location considerations for noise, aesthetics and electrical load.
  • The normal operating wattage, and the start-up wattage of essential equipment. Equipment can draw two to 12 times more power at startup.
  • Wiring needs.
  • Switching the load from the utility system to the backup system.
  • Fuel choice (gasoline, diesel, natural gas, LP).
  • Alarm and notification systems that let you know the generator is running and if a malfunction occurs.
illustration of a generator safety switch
If you connect a generator directly to a building’s wiring, Georgia law requires that you use a transfer switch to keep power from flowing backward into power lines and endangering others. (Simplified illustration.)

After the Sale

The work is not over once the system is installed. Without regular attention and maintenance, your generator might let you down when you need it most.

Automatic generators typically start and run themselves a few minutes every week. While this exercise may give you confidence that your generator can perform in a short outage, it’s no guarantee that it’s ready for a days-long event.

In a study of generator failures during an extended power outage caused by a hurricane, most failures occurred to systems that were test run every week.

In addition to weekly run tests, you should:

  • Check stored fuel for sediment and moisture. Protect fuel tanks from rain.
  • Install a manual bypass key switch in case the electronic controls malfunction.
  • Have an annual inspection by a qualified technician.
  • Annually remove equipment and electrical junction box covers to check for rodent, bird and insect nests.
  • Keep extra fuel filters, belts and replacement parts on hand.
  • Have adequate fuel. A large generator can burn three to five gallons of fuel an hour.