Undercover Work at the State’s Central Heating and Cooling Plant

Under the sidewalks of downtown Sacramento lays a labyrinth of narrow, sweltering and faintly lit concrete tunnels stretching out for more than two miles. The tunnels are part of the Central Heating and Cooling Plant — a facility that delivers hot and cold water that heats and cools more than five million square feet of state buildings, including the headquarters for the California Energy Commission.


On a hot day, the plant at 6th and Q streets moves more than 14,000 gallons of water per minute, said Kaeyrie Rodriguez, chief engineer for the plant, which is operated by the California Department of General Services. The oversized pipes, valves, fans, chillers, boilers and other equipment operate around the clock, 365 days a year, serving 23 state-owned buildings. The facility, which was built in 1968 and completed a major renovation in 2010, is a LEED platinum plant that was designed to provide safer and more reliable heating and cooling to state buildings, expand capacity, plus improve energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. While the plant features highly efficient gas-fired steam boilers and other equipment, a passerby might mistake it for something else.


When renovating, planners wanted a look that blended in with the downtown landscape. What they got was a clean, modern building and a new 140-foot tall thermal energy water silo with urban camouflage – a powder and royal blue paint scheme surrounded by silver cladding that doubles as a modern art piece. They also made sure the facility was quiet. There is very little noise except for what sounds like a water fountain somewhere off in the distance. That sound comes from the massive evaporative cooling tower on top of the main building. There, eight fans with blades larger than most commercial aircraft propellers remove heat from large water droplets raining down into huge collecting pools with the force and din of a Midwest downpour. What’s more, the facility uses photovoltaic panels in the parking lot to generate electricity for the office and support areas.

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California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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