Almost two years before the White House eyed a renewed electric system for the nation, the Electric Power Board began upgrading its network at a cost of $170 million.
"Once we have our (new) grid up and running to all our customers, we will be the largest municipal utility in the United States offering the smart grid as well as fiber to the home," said EPB spokeswoman Lacie Newton.
EPB has been installing 100 miles a month of fiber-optic lines to create the smart grid. EPB hopes the grid is ready by June to be able to launch fiber optics to the home in select areas of Hamilton County, she said.
The smart grid conserves electricity and saves money and is expected to save EPB more than $300 million over 10 years through operational efficiency, Ms. Newton said.
The modifications allow EPB to offer residential high-speed Internet, cable television and telephone - new services that the City Council approved for EPB in 2007 - to all the homes supplied with EPB electricity.
But Chattanooga may not be alone for long with its smart grid. President Barack Obama has made a priority of creating a national smart grid.
WHAT IS A SMART GRID?
Smart grids are modern electric systems that use communications systems to share data between power companies, operating systems and customers to provide better control of the electric system. Smart grids are self-healing, meaning they perform constant self-assessments to detect, analyze and respond to situations. This can help the power company to identify potential issues and correct them before they can affect the customer.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that he signed into law Feb. 17 includes $11 billion for investing in the grid, according to the White House Web site, www.whitehouse.gov. The U.S. Department of Energy will receive $4.5 billion for such projects as smart grid technology research, including $10 million for developing standards for grid devices, according to the department's Web site.
EPB is working on a proposal to apply for government stimulus funds to help pay for the smart grid, Ms. Newton said. It's too soon to say how much money EPB may qualify for or when it would receive the funds.
Last month, President Obama reached an agreement with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to share information on deploying a smart grid to link the two nations.
As part of the stimulus package, the Energy Department created a clearinghouse to gather technical and legislative information about the smart grids, according to the department's Web site. The clearinghouse aims to make it easier for technology developers, power companies and others to support the creation of the smart grid.
EPB has said that the smart grid will allow the utility to prevent the theft of electricity, which nationally accounts for about 1 percent to 1.5 percent of a utility's sales on average. The grid also will inform the utility of outages faster.
The smart grid eventually will connect to new meters that EPB plans to install at each customer's house, Ms. Newton said. The meters, which are necessary for EPB's broadband service, will allow customers to monitor their energy use and conserve power, she said.
It will take three to five years to offer fiber to the home to all households in EPB's electric service area, said Katie Espeseth, vice president of EPB's telecommunications division. The smart grid's fiber-optic wires and communications system will serve as the backbone for EPB's fiber to the home program.
EPB is testing the cable television service in nine employees' homes in North Chattanooga and Highland Park, Ms. Espeseth said, and in about six weeks will start testing the service in select customers' homes. Testing on the Internet and telephone services will start soon, she said.
"Our early impressions from them has been good," Ms. Espeseth said.
North Chattanooga, Highland Park, Alton Park, Red Bank and East Ridge will be among the first areas to receive fiber to the home, she said. EPB plans to start offering telecom service to those areas at the same time the smart grid becomes active.