Electrifying: What is the Grid Control Backbone? How is it Paid For?

Our recent survey results showed us that our membership wants to be better informed about Co-op business. Look for these “Electrifying” articles regularly in our local papers and at opalco.com/news.

Our Cooperative has built a robust grid control backbone that is at the core of our electrical distribution system. The backbone is mostly a fiber optic network, but with the recent purchase of a 700 MHz licensed frequency, it will begin to reach further with a wireless component as well. Our member-owners have all shared in the cost of the backbone since 1999, and we all benefit from the savings and efficiencies it creates for our system. Work on a new phase of expansion began this summer.

With this network, we remotely monitor and control our electrical distribution system, read meters automatically, identify faults and reroute power to minimize outage time – and maintain our own phone and data communications systems for the administration of the Cooperative.

Through OPALCO’s Island Network division, public institutions such as schools, medical centers, emergency services, county offices and libraries – as well as a growing number of businesses and some individuals – are connected to the same backbone as a platform for Internet services. All connections for Internet services are paid for by the end user.

As of year end 2013, the grid control backbone represents $3.45 million on OPALCO’s balance sheet. The backbone expansion plan over the next 2-3 years will cost an estimated $7.5 million and includes connection of additional field devices, crew communication facilities and planning for the future with reserve conduit and vaults to meet predicted member needs going forward. This investment pays for itself. The direct – and indirect – benefits of the backbone such as system reliability, conservation of power through efficiency, automated meter reading, crew time savings and avoided losses through safety gains make ours a stronger cooperative and help us to manage increasing power costs.

As the backbone expands, the benefits to our membership include a greater safety net for the community (first responders, emergency services and other utility monitoring), better Internet services as more members connect to the platform provided by the network, and more sustainable communities (health, quality of life, business and diversity) with a twenty-first century connection to the world.

A cost-benefit analysis of the grid control backbone and map of the preliminary expansion design is available at opalco.com/about/finances/.