Grid Modernization

Budget For Johnson City, Tenn., Includes Smart Grid And Broadband Upgrades

The board of directors of BrightRidge, the public power utility serving Johnson City, Tenn., has unanimously approved budgets that include funding to build out the utility’s smart grid network and to accelerate the expansion of the broadband services of BrightRidge Broadband by 12 months.

The fiscal year 2022 budget approved for BrightRidge in late June includes plans to issue $28 million in bonds in August to finance to pay for system design and installation of 72 Intellirupter smart switches that reroute electricity automatically in outage events to restore as many customers as quickly as possible while protecting sensitive distribution infrastructure.

Smart switches, such as the Intellirupter, are a key feature of self-healing electric distribution systems and have improved system reliability by as much as 50 percent according to an impact study after 1,100 of the switches were installed at the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga.

The smart switching work is expected to cost $3.9 million. BrightRidge also expects to spend $9.2 million to upgrade substations in the West, Northeast and Gray sections of its service territory, which are approaching the end of their useful life cycle and are in need of overhaul, BrightRidge engineering officials said in a statement.

BrightRidge expects to spend another $3 million over three years to cover electric infrastructure improvements related to the Walnut Street project in downtown Johnson City.

BrightRidge’s new budget did not contain an increase in retail electric rates.

When complete, substation and distribution system improvements will accommodate more load as the region grows, while also providing additional flexibility for quicker power restoration during a storm event that damages electric distribution infrastructure, BrightRidge said.

“In my tenure as BrightRidge chief executive, this has remained a priority item as we believe this offers a critical upgrade to our customers that will dramatically cut outage times,” Jeff Dykes, BrightRidge’s CEO, said in a statement. “These projects move BrightRidge forward when it comes to overall system resilience.”

“With borrowing costs near an all-time low, this is the perfect time for BrightRidge to accelerate these investments,” Dykes said. “As multi-generational investments designed to last for decades, bonding also allows those costs to be spread out over several generations, keeping rates low for customers today and tomorrow.”

The board of directors also approved BrightRidge Broadband’s plan to accelerate broadband deployment, which now is projected to take place in seven years instead of eight.

The plan calls for building out service over the next 12 months to 5,449 potential customers instead of the original 2,940 customers. And in phase five, which begins in July 2023, BrightRidge Broadband plans to add 8,248 customers who would have ultra-high-speed fiber to the premises service available, 5,300 more than originally planned for that phase.

“We are seeing huge broadband demand from our customers,” Dykes said.  “No one in the country matches this level of service. It’s both a point of pride for our community and a key selling point in economic development.”