published Friday, August 7th, 2009

Grants sought for grid

EPB and other TVA distributors are asking Uncle Sam for help to make their electric systems smarter.

Two dozen power cooperatives and municipalities in the Tennessee Valley applied this week for up to $311 million in federal grants to install interactive meters and communication equipment along its electric power lines.

Chattanooga’s EPB, which is building the country’s biggest municipally owned fiber-optic network, is requesting $111 million of matching federal dollars to help pay for another $226 million to install control meters at more than 160,00 of its customers.

The Chattanooga-based Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, representing 23 TVA distributors, wants $200 million of federal funds to match TVA and distributor investments in “smart grid” technologies for pilot programs in five states.

“This would allow us to fully utilize the fiber-optic network we’re building a lot more and a lot faster,” EPB Vice President David Wade said. “With these funds we could install meters at every home and put in the back office software equipment so we could fully help our customers manage their energy use for the greatest efficiency.”

The smart grid allows utilities like EPB to send signals to specially equipped appliances over transmission lines. The signals allow the electricity providers to tell the appliances to operate using less power during peak consumption times or when no one is at home or businesses are shut down.

While the EPB grant is designed to build out the system, other distributors applying for federal help through TVPPA want to test new technologies through a variety of pilot programs.

Doug Peters, director of technology applications for the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, said TVA has pledged up to $100 million and 23 distributors have collectively pledged another $100 million to match up to $200 million of federal stimulus funds. The participating distributors in the TVPPA grant request include Volunteer Energy Cooperative, the Sequatchie Valley Electric Co-op and the North Alabama Electric Cooperative.

“The transmission network today is all about delivering electricity and there is very little of the communication and control functions which could be available to help us better utilize power,” Mr. Peters said. “With a smarter grid, consumers would be able to see minute-by-minute how much power is being used and what it costs and thereby make smarter decisions about their energy use.”

The U.S. Department of Energy, which is expected to decide this fall on smart grid applications from utilities throughout the country, set aside nearly $4 billion for matching grants under the stimulus package.

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