Blog Archive

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fiber is good for you...

That’s right. Fiber is indeed good for you! We’re not talking about Metamucil here. We are talking about the kind of fiber that is coming to your home or business right here in Glasgow!

You have probably noticed all of the trucks with the bright EPB red, blue, and green logo on them working feverishly around Glasgow. What is coming? The future! And it is coming to Glasgow before almost anywhere else in the United States. We are rebuilding our broadband network with a new architecture called Fiber To The Home (FTTH).

In the United States there are about 120 million homes. Fewer than 1% of those homes are connected to a FTTH network. Does that make you feel special? It should. FTTH means that all of the telephone, internet, cable television, and electric metering signals coming to and from your home will be carried on a light wave traveling down a strand of glass smaller than a human hair. The FTTH architecture requires far less maintenance, experiences fewer outages, and is much more robust than the coaxial cable network which serves your home today. FTTH will allow us to offer many new and exciting services, including internet access at speeds many times faster than the very fast service you already enjoy.

Glasgow is famous for leading the United States in the implementation of advanced broadband networks. We started this race in 1988 and our lead has yet to be challenged. Glasgow’s FTTH project continues that trend. Glasgow is the only city in Kentucky installing a FTTH network. The first 600 home project is taking place right now. These are the homes closest to our Jama M Young Technology Center that houses the FTTH hardware. After this area is completed, we hope to continue this network conversion for the next few years until every home and business in Glasgow is connected to the future.

Yes, Fiber Is Good For You. We hope you return to this site often so we can keep you posted on the cool new products we are inventing right here in Glasgow! This is a very exciting time to live in Glasgow and be a part of this latest iteration of innovation by the EPB. We hope you will join us in this effort to keep bringing Glasgow the future, faster!
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

September 07

The record heat wave of August has done more than killing off our grass and flowers, it has evaporated the shroud which has hidden some of the dirtiest secrets of the energy business. You say you have not noticed this? You will, dear readers, you will.

Before we get too deep into this newsletter, I want to admit that it was heavily influenced by a book by Bill McKibben, Deep Economy. It is a fantastic book and is largely responsible for any traces of wisdom that might be found herein.

On the surface, TVA’s philosophy about the energy business, since the mid-70's, has operated on one consistent maxim: All good things come from relentless growth. Over the last couple of years, and in particular over the last month, even TVA has begun to realize that More no longer always equals Better. In fact, More is becoming much more closely aligned with Miserable than Better.

How did we arrive at this point? Well, it took a lot of commitment to the belief that More always brings Better by TVA management over several decades. They pursued that belief in many, many ways. They started, but then soon killed, a home weatherization program that was doing a great job of helping homes use less energy (Why? Because it was not producing More sales of energy!), they operate a hyper-aggressive industry recruitment program that has never seen an industry they did not think would look great in any TVA community, but the worst damage has been done by the rate structure they implemented about 15 years ago. Everyone in the energy business knows that power costs more to produce and deliver during certain hours of the day when overall usage peaks. TVA knows that too, but instead of recognizing that reality and creating a rate environment which acknowledges that and charges us proportionately, they use a simple rate that ignores that reality and, instead, sends everyone the message that all energy costs the same thing, no matter when you use it.

So, if you send out the message every month that there is an unlimited supply of electricity and you should use a lot of it and use it whenever you want, what would you guess might happen? That’s right! We all started to use a lot more energy. In fact, even with some large industries in Glasgow shutting down and scaling back, we continue to set new record peak electrical demands every year (we set four new all-time records in August alone). Electric power usage has grown so much that TVA soon is selling more electric power than they can produce. So, what do they do? They go out on the open market and buy more expensive power from their neighbors! That’s right, during the peak hours of the day in Glasgow there is a high likelihood that the electricity keeping your air conditioner running is actually coming from KU or LG&E or any of a number of neighboring systems.

So did this shortfall cause TVA to begin questioning if More always leads to Better? Nope.
In fact, in the midst of this shortage, TVA is actually offering some large customers an incentive to add additional machinery and buy more power (I swear I am not making this up!)! In TVA’s world, it makes perfect sense to pay a customer to add electricity demand, then sell that customer power during peak times at a price far lower than their cost of buying that power from others. That is the power of unlimited belief in More always brings Better.

TVA is not the only villain in this play. There are examples of this faulted dedication to that old belief in many other segments of our economy. Certain elements of our banking industry have felt that more home construction and speculation is always better too. Heard about the fear in our financial markets due to the sub-prime mortgages and the spiraling examples of folks in default on the payments (these defaults jumped 93% in July compared to July of 2006)? This is just another example of business pursuing More at all costs. In the real world, everyone cannot afford the house they wish for. Still, many financial institutions have been lending out money at great risk, counting on the belief that More loans will equal Better profits in all cases. Somehow, no one bothered figuring out where we were going to get the money to pay for all the money we were being offered. That is just as wrong, and just as damaging to our economy, as TVA believing that selling more energy at a cost lower than their cost of buying it, while paying some of us to use more, will result in more prosperity for us all. The actual result is greater cost for most of us in return for savings and increased profit for a few. The folks being hired to build new power plants are not complaining!

You will personally experience this matter on October 1 when TVA’s “fuel cost adjustment” mechanism will increase your electric rates by about 5% to help them pay for the increased cost of coal, and other fuels, and the massive cost of the power they have been buying from the neighbors to supply the demand they encouraged us to create, but that they did not have the capacity to produce. In this case More did lead to Better, just not for us, rather, for the stockholders of LG&E and the other companies that sold the power to TVA. Does that make you feel better?

While this 5% increase is only part of their quarterly adjustment pattern, which means it technically could go away three months later, the impact on Glasgow’s economy is dramatic. In just three months this increase will cost our community more than $320,000! While we struggle with trying to save the community $200,000 per year by not adding cable programming like The Disney Channel and Fox Sports South, TVA’s devotion to More can sweep $320,000 out of the community in three months without even so much as a thank-you note. These are the kinds of defeats that make the battle hard to continue. No matter how hard we fight for our community’s economy, someone bigger and more powerful is always there to squash our efforts.

So, as we wind down the summer which brought us more heat, more energy consumption, more water consumption, more fear of collapse of our financial system, and more realization that our bridges, highways, electric networks, and other crucial infrastructure needs more maintenance, we contemplate whether the road to More can still take us to the land of Better. Do the people of Minneapolis now want more roads which can be named after some fat-cat politician, or would they like to have the money spent for unglamorous maintenance work on existing bridges? Do the people longing for their lost loved ones in collapsed coal mines want us to burn more coal which leads to even more risky mining activity? Do you want to keep paying more for electricity so that TVA can continue to reward some folks for using more energy? Clearly, some of us are learning about the peril of unflagging devotion to More. More does not lead to Better in 2007, and it likely never will again. Since us regular folk are now beginning to understand this, maybe we can start helping our leaders understand this as well. So let me be the first to utter this strange new theory . . . Less might actually lead us to Better.

August 07

Energy, Carbon Dioxide, and Pizza Went Fishing Together . . .

Have you noticed how hot it is? The electric bill associated with this newsletter is likely the biggest one you will get this year (if it isn’t, the one you get in September probably will be). Did you ever wonder how your consumption compares to your neighbor down the street or your friends in nearby towns? If so, read on and we will tell you where you stand.

In Glasgow the average electric power usage for the month of July was 1,500 kWh (of course if you buy your power from Farmers RECC we do not have statistics for you, but it is quite likely that this figure is about the same for you). Take a look at your electric bill. If your home used more than 1,500 kWh for last month, you are using more energy than the average home in Glasgow uses. You should be pleased to know that Glasgow’s average residential consumption is considerably lower than the average for all the homes served by TVA across portions of seven states. Actually our average consumption at homes in Glasgow is about 18% lower than the average for our TVA neighbors. Some of that is because we are among the northernmost consumers of TVA power so that helps some in the summer. Another reason is that we have a very large number of homes that heat with natural gas and that lowers our consumption some in the winter.

To meet the demands for electric power in Glasgow, TVA burns a lot of coal. They also use nuclear power, hydroelectric power, power purchased from neighboring utilities, and they burn a lot of natural gas during peak hours to meet our growing demand for power. Did you ever think about the environmental impact of our demand for electricity? Perhaps you should sit down. If you are that average residential customer who used 1,500 kWh in July, then TVA burned coal and natural gas (and purchased power August, 2007 from neighbors doing the same thing) that resulted in emitting just more than 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere just to serve your home last month. There are about 5,300 homes in Glasgow and Glasgow is just one small city in North America. A ton of CO2 emitted just for your home for one month . . . I hope you find that as staggering as we do.

Of course burning fossil fuel emits a lot of other noxious chemicals as well, but a lot of technology is applied toward the goal of removing those chemicals and they are doing a quite fair job. Nothing is being done to reduce the emission of CO2 and there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that CO2 gas emissions are the central cause of our changing climate. When carbon dioxide drifts into the atmosphere it acts like the blanket of insulation you have in your attic, it traps heat that would otherwise radiate out into space, and we are all seeing and feeling the effect of that insulation.

So, are you interested in thinking globally and acting locally? Would you like to know what you can do to start reducing your “CO2 footprint?” There are a number of things that can help and they are all quite simple really. In short, use less energy that is derived from coal, natural gas, and petroleum. Learn how to be comfortable with the thermostat on 79 instead of 70 would likely make the biggest possible impact over the remainder of the summer. There is also a new electric rate structure which TVA is going to allow us to pilot with some of our customers. This rate is called a Time-Of-Use (TOU) rate and it is made possible because of our 20-year-old initiative to associate a broadband network with our electric power network. One by one, we are converting our old electric meters to new meters which can be constantly monitored via the broadband network. As a result, we can monitor how much energy each customer consumes during the different hours of the day (old meters only could tell you how much energy had passed since the last reading, they had no idea what time of day you might have used the energy).

That level of data allows us to offer a TOU rate which will reward customers for reducing their demand during the hours of the day when TVA is pressed for capacity. That is when they are burning the most fossil fuel and contributing the most CO2 to the atmosphere. This rate would also penalize customers with higher rates for electricity during those peak hours. In other words it giveth and it taketh away, so one would not want to go into this pilot program if they are not prepared to really try to change their energy usage pattern.

It would really not be so hard to make those changes. For the remaining summer months, all you would really have to remember is that all electric power consumption between 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on weekdays is bad. So, you would want to install a programmable thermostat so that you could tell it that 80 degrees in the house is okay, Monday through Friday, from 2:00 until 8:00. After 8:00 you could tell the thermostat to cool the house down for comfortable sleeping. You could also have it cool the house down to 68 degrees shortly before the peak time starts at 2:00. This “pre-cooling” could keep your home cool for quite a while during the hot afternoon while you avoid additional cooling during the peak period. At the same time you would want to avoid running the washer, dryer, dishwasher, and all heat generating kitchen appliances during those weekday hours. Of course, that would pretty much render the kitchen useless for cooking dinner, but there are ways to get around that problem as well.

One way to avoid using the oven or stove in the afternoon and early evening is to go outside and use the grill! If you employ this solution, you get the dual advantage of saving electric energy during peak hours and also taking a load off of your air-conditioning system. You also get great grilled-out food! Everyone knows that food off of the grill with those great looking grill marks on it tastes better than anything from the kitchen. Grill marks rock! But what if you don’t have a grill or just don’t yet possess all of the skills you need to cook food in the great outdoors? Be not afraid. There are other solutions. Obviously you can eat out, and there are plenty of great local restaurants that would be very happy to see you. But one of my personal favorite solutions involves the use of the internet to procure . . . pizza! That’s right. You can go online using the EPB’s amazingly fast LAN service and order up your favorite custom-made pizza pie right here in Glasgow. I love this process. Just go to the website of your favorite pizza establishment, click on the size pizza and the ingredients you want, tell them who you are, and you get an email back in a flash telling you how much it will cost and what time you can pick it up! It is so cool, and it does not heat up your kitchen at all.

If you are interested in learning more about the TOU rate pilot, please email me, call me, or otherwise get me a message. We still have some details to work out on exactly how this new rate structure will work, but we are feverishly working on it because there is not that much summer left and we want to see some results this year. So, let me know if you think you might be interested in saving some money by changing your energy use habits. Glasgow has a history of leadership in many adaptations of technology. This is another opportunity for us to shine and to start the process of leaving a better world than the one we found.