EPB Deals With Downtown Power Outage, Customer Scam

  • Friday, April 19, 2024
  • Gail Perry

Updates were given to the EPB board of directors on Friday morning about two incidents that took place in the last week. There was a partial power outage in downtown Chattanooga caused by a failure in an underground cable. Downtown is served by three networks all originating from one substation. When the source of that failure was located and being repaired, one of the other circuits took over. Then a tree fell and took out a second circuit. Both were powering an industrial area of town. The systems operators were able to do complex switching to restore the power in a relatively short time, the board was told.

Another unusual event happened Thursday when an automated message went to customers, saying their bills were past due and to call a number to make a payment. EPB became aware of the scam when people began calling customer service to verify if the message was legitimate. J. Ed Marston then put out notices to say it was not from EPB, and the misinformation was stopped. David Wade, EPB’s CEO, said that customers need to know that is not the way they would be contacted. EPB would never demand payment by calling them. He suggested if a call like that is received to hang up and dial the number for EPB yourself to get information.

EPB continues to provide the best service possible to all its customers and that includes keeping up with the latest technology and improving what is already being used to positively impact customers, Mr. Wade said. The utility has applied for grants that will assist in doing that. One that has already been received is a matching grant. EPB has committed to match $38 million that it receives for a total of $70 million to spend. With the money, some power lines will be put underground and battery storage will be increased. The large batteries will be placed where there are no alternative ways to route power around a problem during a power interruption. The batteries will keep power on in these areas while repairs are being made. The lead time for getting these large batteries is one year or less. Once the grant contract is finalized, EPB will start ordering the batteries. The utility has five years to spend this grant money.

Two other grant applications have been submitted but it will be summer before knowing if they have been received. One of these was applied for in conjunction with eight other utilities in the Tennessee Valley. If it is awarded, the nine utilities together would receive $500 million, and EPB’s share would be over $50 million. This grant would be used for increasing resiliency and reliability for providing power.

EPB is looking to build a community geothermal project and storage of the power it would produce. Another grant has been applied for to build this project. The grant is for about $22 million. Now geothermal energy is produced by and used primarily for single buildings.

Another update is about the availability of equipment that was hard to get during the pandemic. Mr. Wade said the equipment delays have been caught up, and specifically for transformers. When they were unavailable, EPB placed orders with multiple vendors because transformers are essential for a power company to have. He said the utility has been able to stay ahead and now has a good inventory of transformers. He said, although the lead time and the supply are good now, the costs are not. They are still way above where the price was 2-3 years ago. He said EPB is lucky to be in a financial position to be able to keep a good inventory of the equipment.

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