Staff Photo by Danielle Moore
Chris Highers, an engineer technician for EPB, installs a smart meter at a condominium off Ashland Terrace in Chattanooga on Tuesday.
EPB will receive one of the largest federal grants of its kind in the country to help make Chattanooga a national leader in building a smarter and more efficient electric system.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday that Chattanooga's EPB will receive $111 million in federal stimulus funds to help pay for part of nearly $300 million that the company is investing in fiber-optic lines, new electric-grid technologies and "smart meters."
Within three years, each of the 170,000 homes and businesses served by EPB should have new smart meters to allow continual monitoring of energy usage and its costs, EPB President Harold DePriest said Tuesday.
"Chattanooga has the opportunity to become the electric system of the future," he said. "What was going to take us about 10 years will now take us only about three years to complete and allow all of our customers to be reaping the benefits of a smart grid."
The smart meters, when linked with controllable appliances and programmable thermostats, can automatically turn on and turn off heating, cooling and electronic devices to limit energy waste.
The meters also continuously can measure how much power is being used and set the electricity rate at a higher cost during the times of day when it is most in demand and the most expensive to produce. Conversely, the meters can decrease rates during off-peak periods of the day.
EPB is among 100 cities and utilities nationwide to share in $3.4 billion in federal grants announced Tuesday. The EPB grant received the 12th largest grant nationwide, records show. Collectively, the federal funds are projected to leverage another $4.7 billion in investments from utilities and cities into new smart-grid technologies.
The Department of Energy estimates those technologies should help save $150 billion a year in energy and related expenses, or $500 annually for every consumer.
President Barack Obama likened the federal investment in the new electric meters and grid technologies to what was done under President Eisenhower to build the interstate highway system.
"It's time to make the same kind of investment in the way our energy travels -- to build a clean energy superhighway," he said in a speech in Arcadia, Fla., where Florida Power & Light has built a solar farm.
The federal grants will help to upgrade the transmission of power across the nation and help pay for new ways to meter and control energy use within a home for greater efficiency, he said.
EPB already has spent $143 million to lay fiber-optic lines and install control equipment, Mr. DePriest said.
The utility also is installing 1,000 smart meters, made by Tantalus Systems Corp., in order to test them and to gauge consumer reaction to the devices. The meters cost an average of $117 each to install.
EPB also is spending more than $60 million to install video, Internet and telephone services using its fiber-optic network. Mr. DePriest said the telecommunications business is separate from EPB's electric service and will not use the stimulus funds.
Nonetheless, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said he signed up for the fiber-optic telecom service from EPB this month "and I keep seeing those little blue fiber-optic signs all over town."
"I know now with this additional funding that what the Electric Power Board is already about -- being one of the leading utilities in the country -- can move even farther and faster," he said.
Mr. DePriest said he wants Chattanooga "to become a test bed for the whole country in terms of developing and deploying smart-grid technology."
The new equipment will help make electricity more reliable by restoring outages quicker and help customers to better utilize power by giving them more controls and information, he said.
The new devices will allow the Tennessee Valley Authority and its distributors to change the way electricity is priced to better reflect what it costs to produce, TVA officials have said. TVA is negotiating with its major customers to develop a time-of-day pricing system, but smart meters will be required for such a pricing system to be implemented.
Three other major TVA distributors also were awarded stimulus grants on Tuesday, although none was anywhere near as big as the EPB award.
The Tennessee Valley Public Power Association in Chattanooga also submitted a grant request for stimulus funding on behalf of 23 distributors, but the Department of Energy did not fund that request.
TVPPA President Jack Simmons said the group will meet later this week to plot its next move.
"We are disappointed, but we still think this has great potential for the future," he said.
Ken Breeden, executive vice president of customer resources for TVA, said the federal utility "is still committed to exploring the advantages of a Smart Grid, and we will re-examine our options on how we might want to be involved in implementing this technology."
Smart meter savings
* $500 -- Estimated individual savings in energy costs every year from smart grid technologies
$150 billion -- Estimated annual savings nationwide in reduced power outages and better energy efficiency
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Smart grid grants
in the Tennessee Valley
* EPB of Chattanooga -- $111.6 million toward $226.7 million grant
* Memphis, Light, Gas and Water division -- $5.1 million toward $10.5 million digital upgrades and control systems
* Knoxville Utilities Board -- $3.6 million toward $7.2 million pilot test of 3,800 smart-meter customers
* Tri-State Electric Membership Corp., McCaysville, Ga. -- $1.1 million toward a $2.4 million installation of 15,000 smart meters