Tag: "utility"

Posted February 4, 2011 by christopher

We've been raving about Chattanooga' FTTH network and smart-grid for quite some time now, but others are just learning about it. Chattanooga's Electric Power Board serves some 170,000 households and businesses across 600 sq miles. Though we have mostly focused on the triple-play benefits of the network

Chattanooga had been named one of the 2011 Top 21 Intelligent Communities of the year previously, but more recently made the cut to a Top 7 Intelligent Community. Time will tell if is awarded the Intelligent Community of the year.

Green Tech Media covered the completion of the network pass and activation of electric grid smart switches at the end of 2010.

[A]ll of its 170,000 electricity customers could benefit from the infrastructure. The network will serve as the conduit for 80 billion data points on electricity use per year that could help the utility run more efficiently, reduce outages, and give customers more control over their monthly electricity expenses.

“Chattanooga is the epicenter of energy technology,” said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. “One of our biggest jobs is to exploit this technology for the benefit of our community.”

With power outages previously taking a $100 million/year bite out of private businesses served by EPB, the new FTTH network will enable a much smarter network that will radically decrease those outages and thereby make businesses more productive. By mid 2012, businesses will see a 40% decrease outage time. Over time, as EPB's grid grows ever "smarter," those losses will likely decrease further while also providing energy users (residential and business) more opportunities to manage their power consumption.

For those who only associate the smart-grid with enabling time-of-use pricing (paying more electricity during periods of high demand), there are other important, if hidden benefits:

S&C Electric is supplying EPB with the switches’ pulse-closing technology, which injects a low-energy current pulse into an electric line to determine if a fault has cleared. This saves the utility money by reducing wear and tear on substation...
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Posted December 8, 2010 by christopher

BVU, which operates OptiNet (the nation's first triple-play muni FTTH network), has transitioned from being owned by the City to being an independent authority. In its last fiscal year (2010-11), the public power utility finished with net income.

OptiNet finished ahead of projections.

Having split from the city, BVU is taking advantage of the Virginia Resource Authority to issue $44 million revenue bonds to refinance its debt.

“We’re going through the VRA pool which helps fund 88 cities and service authorities. Because of that – and because of the market – we’re potentially looking at very low interest rates of 3.3 percent,” Rose told the board during his presentation.

The debt currently has an interest rate approaching 5%. After refinancing, the utility expects to save some $500,000 to $750,000 a year - for a period of 20 years. The cost of refinancing is $900,000.

This story is worth noting for two reasons:

  1. Restructuring debt is not necessarily a sign of weakness -- BVU's OptiNet is quite successful.
  2. A reminder that small communities can benefit significantly by pooling bonding through programs like Virginia's VRA. States should help communities to work together in this way.
Posted December 3, 2010 by christopher

The Chelan Public Utility District in Washington state is upgrading network capacity as it starts expanding the network following its broadband stimulus award. We previously covered their consideration of whether to expand from passing 80% of the territory to 98%.

Chelan is one of the most rural publicly owned fiber networks as well as one of the oldest ones. In a rarity, it looks likely to run in the red permanently (the pains of rural, mountain terrain) with the support of most ratepayers. These ratepayers recognize the many benefits of having the network outweigh its inability to entirely pay for itself. The utility also runs a sewer project that is subsidized by wholesale electricity sales. Though some areas in Chelan are served by Charter and Frontier, the more remote folks would have no broadband access if not for the PUD.

With the planned upgrades in 2011, Chelan's open access services will offer far faster speeds than available from the cable and DSL providers. Under Washington law, the PUDs cannot sell telecommunications services directly to customer. The PUD builds the network infrastructure and allows independent service providers to lease access while competing with each other for subscribers. Though this is a great approach for creating a competitive broadband market, it has proved difficult to finance (if one believes this essential infrastructure should not be subsidized as roads are).

When the PUD considered whether to pursue the expansion (meaning taking a federal grant covering 75% of the costs and agreeing to run the network for 22 years), it asked the ratepayers for feedback:

Sixty-four percent of 450 randomly chosen Chelan County registered voters who were part of phone survey in August said they favor taking the grant and completing the buildout, even if it means their electric bills will go up by as much as 3 percent — about $1.50 more on a $50 per month power bill.

On November 9, PUD Commissioners approved the rate increase.

Chelan's service providers currently offer connections of 6Mbps/384kbps or 12 Mbps/384kbps. As with...

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Posted November 24, 2010 by christopher

David Isenberg, of isen.blog, has published a short history of Reedsburg's community fiber network that he previously wrote for the FCC when they were gathering evidence of successful networks they would later ignore in formulating a plan to continue the failed status quo of hoping private companies will build and operate the infrastructure we need.

Nonetheless, one cannot say that smart people like David did not try to help the FCC overcome its obsession with national carriers who dominate the conversations, and whose employees often work periodically with the FCC in what we call the revolving door (which itself, is a reason the FCC has been captured).

Back to Reedsburg; it is a small community approximately 55 miles northwest of Madison that just happens to have far better broadband service than just about anywhere else in Wisconsin.

David writes,

RUC first entered the telecommunications business in 1998, when it constructed a ring to tie its wells, its five electrical substations together and to provide Internet access for its high school, middle school and its school administration building. In planning the ring, the city asked Verizon and Charter if they would build it, but they were not responsive. RUS built a partly aerial, partly buried 7-mile ring of 96-strand fiber at a cost of about $850,000. Internet access was provided by Genuine Telephone, a tiny subsidiary of LaValle Telephone Cooperative which ran a fiber from LaValle, about 8 miles NW of Reedsburg.

As they were building the ring, local businesses asked to be connected as well. Reedsburg took the path that so many communities have followed, start by building for yourself and expand opportunistically. Of course, this requires that you originally engineer the network so it can be later expanded, which is good practice regardless of your future plans.

Reedsburg used bond anticipation notes, a financial mechanism that few others have used in building similar networks.

A local bank loaned the initial $5 million in bond anticipation notes for planning and construction. Then RUC issued an...

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Posted November 14, 2010 by christopher

Communities with both smart-grid investments as well as community networks are again in the news, this time featuring Chattanooga, Leesburg, and Ponca City. Thanks to my colleague at EnergySelfReliantStates.org, who posted this item. ESRS publishes original content about decentralized renewable energy - mostly of a quantitative nature using charts.

Perhaps one of the reasons the broadband networks run by public power utilities are so much more reliable than those run by telco and cablecos is the many decades that public power companies have focused intently on reliability.

Reliability is a good economic development tool, he said. One business looking at Chattanooga asked about the cost of a redundant feed. After EPB explained its smart grid plans, the company chose Chattanooga and decided it didn’t need a redundant feed, he said. In talking to businesses, "I can tell you ... that they get it and they get the importance of this level of automation."

The article offered more details about Ponca City's wireless network that we had previously not discussed. In addition to offering free Wi-Fi to residents, the Ponca City offers fiber-optic-based broadband to local businesses... and two are quite connected.

Perhaps the most eye-opening benefit is that Ponca City offers all of its 26,000 citizens free WiFi service. The city uses its fiber network to sell broadband services to businesses (one has requested 300 mbps service) and those sales pay for the free WiFi, Baird said. The network is basically support-free, said Baird, adding that he gets one or two calls per week. And the free WiFi is "a huge economic development draw," he said.

Posted November 2, 2010 by christopher

Green Tech Grid asks, "Are Munis and Co-Ops Leading Smart Grid?" And the rest of the article says, "YES." This should come as no surprise for readers of this site. The dynamics, and even players, in smart-grid are very similar to those of community networks. There are essentially two approaches to smart-grid: that of the investor-owned utilities that see smart-grid investments as an opportunity to raise rates, and that of munis and coops who see an opportunity to cut costs and better serve their ratepayers.

In Leesburg's case, they knew that just an advanced meter deployment would cut their cost. "We told our commission we're not going to increase our rates because we're rolling this out," said Paul Kalv, Electric Director of Leesburg Power. "And we know we'll be reducing the customer charge to share those savings." So far the city has saved about $1 million. Kalv talks a lot about his customers. When one guy complained about his smart meter, Kalv personally went over to his house to check it out. It is that sort of on-the-ground interaction that is simply not possible for the CEO of investor-owned utilities, like Florida Power & Light Company, where Kalv worked for 22 years.

I raise this issue to note that the article discusses Leesburg and Lake County, Florida, without mentioning their investments in broadband. But when Leesburg applied for the Google Gigabit project, they noted their fiber-optic assets.

Leesburg already provides one of the most important components for Google’s plan – more than 185 route miles of fiber-optic cable spanning from Lady Lake south to Clermont and from the Sumter County line east to Mount Dora and Umatilla. The network would be vital for Google to reach thousands of local businesses and homes. “Leesburg can offer Google a well-established and well-maintained fiber optic backbone from which they can launch their fiber-to-the-home initiative,” said Leesburg City Manager Jay Evans. “Our community’s diverse demographic will be an excellent test bed for all kinds of bandwidth intensive consumer applications.” Among Leesburg’s existing clients are Lake County government, Lake County Schools and Central Florida...

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Posted October 1, 2010 by christopher

Back in 1998, the Braintree Electric Light Department (Massachusetts) built an HFC network for remote monitoring of their electrical services. In 1999, they extended the network to become the first broadband provider in town.

With about 1,500 Internet customers solely from word-of-mouth advertising, BELD staff looked to expand the offerings from its HFC network. In 2000, a cable television plan and $3.5 million bond issue were approved at Town meeting. State-of-the-art digital cable service was launched before the end of that year, and by the end of 2001, BELD was serving 4,000 cable and nearly 3,000 Internet customers.

As a measure of their success, citizens just voted BELD Broadband the top ISP of the area for the 3rd year in a row ...

The town also voted the department Best Cable TV Provider (for the second year) and Best Phone Service in 2010, casting votes via BestOfSurveys.com with Market Surveys of America, an independent survey company and member of the Better Business Bureau.

You can follow BELD Broadband on twitter.

Posted September 30, 2010 by christopher

Sounds like the Scottsboro Electric Power Board is doing well. They offer fiber-optic services to businesses in addition to the cable services they offer to the general public.

Our Cable employees have also had a busy summer. We are experiencing a good bit of growth in business phone line installations and fiber optic data installations. Our phone partner Knology (based in West Point, Georgia) is doing a great job for us. Knology provides the telephone switching and long distance connections so we can concentrate on customer connections and customer service.

Knology seems to have partnered with a number of muni networks to offer telecom services.

Posted September 14, 2010 by christopher

I just spoke with Danna MacKenzie of Cook County and Gary Fields of National Public Broadband (working with Lake County) to find out just how excited they are about yesterday's announcement of broadband stimulus awards. Both Lake and County (separate projects) have been funded to build fiber-to-the-home networks to everyone on the power grid in the region.

They are pretty excited.

In a few years, these North Shore Communities will likely have better broadband options than the metro region of Minneapolis and Saint Paul -- a far cry from the beginning of this year when a single fiber cut stranded the whole north shore.

Bob Kelleher at Minnesota Public Radio covered the awards:

Combined, they will connect 37,000 residents, 1,000 businesses and 98 institutions such as hospitals and schools.

Cook County actually has a double whammy - they already stood to benefit from the North East Service Cooperative, which is building high capacity fiber-optic lines through the North Shore to offer middle-mile backhaul and connect local government facilities and schools.

As of yesterday, they will also get a fiber-to-the-home network from the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative. Cook, currently served in part by Qwest, has little access to true broadband -- some 37% have access to anemic DSL connections and the rest are stuck with dial-up.

Details of the award from Kelleher at MPR:

Joe Buttweiler, who directs membership services with the Lutsen-based Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, said 70 percent of the federal award is a grant and the remainder a loan. He said the cooperative will add another $600,000 for capital.

Back in April, Blandin's Broadband blog published the short summary of the Arrowhead project:

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative proposes to build and operate a fiber optic network to the residential and commercial...

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Posted September 6, 2010 by christopher

OptiLink, the community fiber network in Dalton, Georgia, has been chosen by local newspaper readers as the Best Internet Provider in 2010 - the third year in a row.

According to Stop the Cap!, the community network has a take-rate of 70% and generates $1.5 million in revenue monthly - real money that stays in the community rather than being distributed to Charter shareholders.

Learn more about OptiLink here.

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