Chattanooga's electricity grid will undergo nearly $65 million of upgrades over the next five years to reduce both the number and duration of power outages for nearly 180,000 EPB customers.
EPB was among 58 utilities from across the nation selected Wednesday to share in another $3.5 billion of federal matching grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The funds come from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending package pushed by President Joe Biden and adopted by Congress two years ago with no support from Republican representatives in Congress from Tennessee or Georgia.
EPB President David Wade said the city-owned utility will use the funding to accelerate its program of burying another 101 miles of power lines and circuits, replacing at least 1,388 aging poles and building six new microgrids for backup power.
Wade projects the upgrades should reduce power outages by another 12% or more a year, cutting the average length of outages across EPB's 600-square-mile service territory by at least 8 minutes a year.
"This will allow us to double what we were planning to spend and allow us to accelerate these grid improvements," Wade said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Anytime we can help do things that are good for our community, we're certainly going to apply and do our best to get as many of these type grants as possible."
The $32.4 million federal grant for EPB announced Wednesday is the biggest DOE grant for the Chattanooga utility since EPB was picked in 2009 for a $111.7 million stimulus grant to fund half of the costs of building its fiber optic network. EPB used those matching federal funds to install fiber optic lines throughout its service territory to build both a smart electric grid and America's first citywide high-speed internet service.
Wade said EPB has used the smart grid to cut outages at least in half and the new program should further strengthen the utility's power grid to limit outages even more during storms and accidents.
In neighboring Georgia, Oglethorpe Power and other electric cooperatives were selected for DOE grants designed to leverage more than $507 million of battery storage, local microgrids and transmission line upgrades. The proposed projects should strengthen the power grid against storms and other natural disasters as well as provide more backup power when outages do occur, officials said.
"Extreme weather events fueled by climate change will continue to strain the nation's aging transmission systems, but President Biden's Investing in America agenda will ensure America's power grid can provide reliable, affordable power," U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in an announcement of the grants. "Today's announcement represents the largest-ever direct investment in critical grid infrastructure, supporting projects that will harden systems, improve energy reliability and affordability — all while generating union jobs for highly skilled workers."
In addition to the equipment upgrades, EPB also will use the extra federal funds to help recruit and retain more minorities and offer other training assistance to prepare workers for the coming wave of retirements from many baby boomers, Wade said. In its application for the grant submitted this spring, EPB said it will work to grow training programs at Chattanooga State Community College and work to make sure at least 25% of its suppliers, contractors and vendors working on the grid upgrades are minority- or women-owned contractors.