EPB workers installing fiber-optic lines

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE - Moving to automate through so-called Smart Grid technology, EPB personnel expect to finish laying 300 miles of fiber-optic lines to 116 electric substations by summer, an official said.

"We have a lot of automation inside of our substations, and having the ability to control that gives us the ability to use that knowledge to maximize the use of our assets," said David Wade, senior vice president of EPB's electric system.

EPB over a three-to-five-year period would run fiber-optic lines to homes and other parts of the electric system, he said. The utility plans to issue a $230 million bond, backed by Chattanooga, to pay for part of the Smart Grid and other capital improvements to the electric system. The fiber lines now being installed were paid for by a $12 million line item in the utility's budget.

Meanwhile, a Davidson County chancellor is expected to hear several motions in a cable industry lawsuit seeking to stop EPB from offering cable service. The Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association filed a brief countering EPB's claim that the utility should not be required to file documents before a trial, said Stacey Briggs, the cable association's president.

EPB is asking the chancellor to drop the lawsuit.

EPB recently delayed issuing the $230 million bond because officials said the subprime mortgage crisis has rocked the financial market, leading to higher interest rates and making bond insurance more expensive.

EPB is waiting for interest rates to drop before issuing the bond, officials said. Mr. Wade said the Smart Grid upgrades will allow EPB to prevent theft of electricity, which according to national surveys accounts for 1 percent to 1.5 percent of a utility's sales. The technology also would use computers to detect outages, diagnose problems in the electric system and reset switches, alleviating the need for EPB technicians to drive around and manually reset those switches, he said. The Smart Grid eventually will connect to Smart Meters that EPB plans to install at each customer's house, Mr. Wade said.

The meters will allow customers to monitor their energy use and conserve power, he said.

The utility recently received approval from the Chattanooga City Council to borrow up to $60 million from electric system revenue to launch a residential telecommunications system. The Smart Grid fiber-optic lines would form the backbone of the telecom system.

EPB would repay the electric system loan by selling residential television, Internet and telephone service.


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