One of the longest serving EPB directors will retire as chairman this summer after helping to transform the city-owned utility into a national leader in broadband communications and smart grid technology over his 28 years on the board.
Joe Ferguson said he plans to step down on July 31 as chair of the 5-member board that oversees Chattanooga's electric and internet utility.
EPB accomplishments while Ferguson was on the board:
2006: EPB completes construction of its new downtown building on Martin Luther King Blvd, which was designed to become a new landmark structure in Chattanooga’s City Center.
2007: Ferguson leads the EPB Board in approving the plan for EPB to build a community-wide fiber optics network.
2008: EPB secures bond funding and begins building the fiber network. The plan calls for EPB Fiber Optics to begin providing services as soon as the infrastructure reaches each customer’s home, so EPB also serves its first residential internet, television, and phone customers.
2009: EPB wins a competitive process and is awarded a federal stimulus grant in the amount of $111 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to expedite the build and implementation of the Smart Grid.
2010: EPB completes the build-out of the fiber network to all homes and businesses in the service area.
2012: EPB completes installation of the 1,170th smart switch (IntelliRupter® PulseCloser), which equips the entire 600 square-mile service area with the nation’s most automated Smart Grid network.
2013: EPB’s downtown headquarters building is LEED Certified, making it the first existing commercial building in Chattanooga to obtain this certification.
2014 EPB completes construction of its new Control Center, which brings control of EPB’s Electric Power and Fiber Optics systems into a single, state-of-the-art command center. EPB is the first U.S. utility to bring together all of these departments and processes under one roof.
2014: EPB establishes a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to use Chattanooga’s Smart Grid as a living laboratory to test and develop new energy technologies.
2015: Chattanooga launches the world’s first community-wide 10 gigabit internet service.
2016: EPB Fiber Optics is named America’s best provider of internet and television services by Consumer Reports, based on customer rankings for reliability, quality of products and customer service.
2017: EPB launches Solar Share, Chattanooga’s first community solar program that lowers the barriers for Electric Power customers to participate in renewable energy with several options. Participating customers license nearly 1,000 solar panels during the first week after launch.
2018 : For a third consecutive year, customers participating in J.D. Power’s annual Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study gave EPB the highest Customer Satisfaction Score for mid-sized utilities in the South region, based on feedback from customers about quality and reliability, price, billing, corporate citizenship and customer service.
2019: EPB Fiber Optics tripled its most popular internet speed at no additional cost. Residential customers who subscribed to the 100 Mbps internet speed were upgraded to 300 Mbps with no increase in the price.
Ferguson, a former president of Chattanooga Glass Co., Burner Systems International and The Enterprise Center, has served on the EPB board under five different mayors since 1991. As chairman of EPB since 2000, he has helped guide Chattanooga's electric utility as it built Chattanooga into the Gig City by becoming the first utility to provide fiber-to-the-home to allow for high-speed broadband throughout its service territory.
"We have tried as a board to hire the best people we can and then help support them as we figure out how to best serve Chattanooga," Ferguson said of his role as chairman. "I've had the honor of working with an incredible team of people, who have a passion for serving this community with all of their considerable technical expertise and care for customers."
The EPB chairman said he agreed to stay on as chairman three years ago when former EPB President Harold DePriest announced he was retiring to help ensure an orderly transfer to the current president David Wade.
"Joe was due to roll off the board around the time I was named CEO in 2016, but he agreed to stay on to facilitate the transition," Wade said. "He has done a tremendous job of leading the board as EPB continually strives to provide world-class energy and technology solutions to support our community in realizing its full potential."
Created in 1935, EPB is an independent entity owned by the city and governed by its wholesale power supplier, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Mayor Andy Berke will appoint a successor to Ferguson on the EPB board and the board members will elect their next chairman.
Ferguson, who typically spends a couple of days a week at the EPB headquarters building he voted to build more than a decade ago in downtown Chattanooga, said EPB has always been conservatively managed and was one of the few TVA distributors in the past that was completely debt free.
But Ferguson and DePriest, at the urging of then Mayor Bob Corker, pushed more than a decade ago to have EPB begin building a fiber network and then supported borrowing more than $220 million to build the network across EPB's entire 600-square-mile service territory.
Aided by a $111 million federal stimulus grant, EPB made Chattanooga the first city in the Western Hemisphere to have citywide gigabit-per-second internet service and smart grid technology. EPB Fiber Communications, which some critics initially warned could push up electric rates to pay for the internet and video services, has ended up keeping power rates down by about 7 percent below what they would otherwise be by generating $163.1 million in revenues last year and topping 100,000 customers this year, Ferguson said.
Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey, a member of the EPB board, said Ferguson also "played a critical role in helping EPB form and deepen a number of working partnerships including joint-projects with Oak Ridge National Laboratory focused on both research and job creation."
ORNL opened an office at EPB and its researchers have conducted a number of studies using EPB's smart grid.
Ferguson said he will continue to work on such connections with Oak Ridge and other studies being done at UTC using EPB's technology
"I may be retiring from the EPB Board, but I'm not retiring from the community," he said. "I'm midstream on working with a number of organizations on a range of educational and economic development projects. I look forward to continuing those efforts."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340