Chattanooga utility EPB has gone on a fiber binge, stringing fiber-optic lines to substations to enhance the electric system in a prelude to offering residential telecommunications service.
Fiber-optic lines being installed will create a smart grid, or electronic system that will allow the utility to better control power distribution, said David Wade, senior vice president of EPB’s electric system.
Staff Photo By Kelly Wegel -- Dillard Smith Construction Co. employees Cory Wade, left, and Grant Barker prepare fiber optic cable for EPB’s system.
“We have a lot of automation inside of our substations, and having the ability to control that allows us to use that knowledge to maximize the use of our assets,” Mr. Wade said.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 20 percent to 30 percent: Speed with which fiber to the home will help EPB restore power after storm outages
* $11.5 million: Amount per year that would be saved by automatic meter reading, theft prevention and other means
* $29.6 million: Annual benefits to EPB’s electric system
The upgrade will help consumers use less electricity during peak demand times, when electricity costs more to generate or buy from outside the Tennessee Valley Authority’s network, he said. The fiber-optic system also will provide for automatic meter reading and reduce theft of electric services, as well as help EPB re service faster after outages, he said.
The smart grid also will serve as the backbone of fiber to the home, with cable television, high-speed Internet and telephone service. EPB could start offering fiber to the home to some customers by the end of the year or first of 2009, said EPB President Harold DePriest.
A lawsuit is pending in Hamilton County Chancery Court by Comcast of the South, which claims that EPB is subsidizing its telecommunications plan illegally with electric system revenue.
EPB officials have said they plan to continue preparing to offer fiber to the home, and that their plan is not illegal. EPB is planning to borrow money from the electric system to finance construction of fiber to the home and then repay the electric system.
Comcast officials previously announced that the company spent $15 million in the past year to upgrade its cable, Internet and telephone systems. Video-on-demand is available to all of Comcast’s digital cable customers, and voicemail can be checked online at no additional cost. Also, Internet download speeds have been boosted.
Earlier this year Food Network, HGTV, USA Network and TBS were offered as high-definition channel selections.
EPB would run fiber-optic lines to homes and other parts of the electric system over a three- to five-year period to offer telecommunications services, Mr. DePriest said.