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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Cleveland Board of Public Utilities may form a partnership with Chattanooga-based EPB's Smart Grid program.

Cleveland Utilities and EPB have been talking for months about entering what is called an interlocal agreement and the CU board on Monday approved a letter of intent that lays the groundwork for a partnership.

EPB was awarded $111.5 million in federal stimulus money in October, 2009, to expedite building out a Smart Grid.

"We have been talking about the possibility of partnering with them in implementing Smart Grid technology," Tom Wheeler, Cleveland Utilities general manager, said. "This letter of intent allows us to continue to pursue that idea of partnering."

Any final agreement would need future CU Board approval, Mr. Wheeler said.

In a related move, the CU Board also approved beginning construction of 45 miles of fiber-optic cable "backbone'' here by Atlantic Engineering Group. The cost is expected to be about $522,000.

"It will tie our substations together and allows us to move forward on automated meter infrastructure,'' said Walt Vineyard of Cleveland Utilities.

Because of budget concerns, Cleveland Utilities and Atlantic had agreed several months ago to delay the project. But with many changes coming to electric service, including a change in the Tennessee Valley Authority's billing, board members said it's time to begin.

Board members were especially interested in the potential for locally provided cable television, something CU hired a consultant to study several years ago.

WHAT IS A SMART GRID?

A Smart Grid system allows more reliable electric power, restores outages faster, allows better monitoring of power use and connects components of the electric power system.

Source: EPB

Mr. Wheeler told the board that EPB has already initiated cable TV service.

"We might as well get you prepared for this,'' Mr. Wheeler told the board.

However, CU has not made a decision about whether it will provide cable or Internet service like EPB does.

When the Smart Grid is in place, the next step will likely be a Smart Meter system that could cost $5 million and take three years to build.

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