TXU tackling ’smart grid” for high-speed Internet

TXU Electric Delivery is teaming with a Maryland company to create a “smart grid” that could improve electric service to Waco customers and give them access to high-speed Internet.

TXU and Current Communications Group announced Monday that Current will design, build and operate a grid to serve more than 2 million homes and businesses in the TXU service area.

That area includes Waco, but exactly when local residents would see high-speed Internet service from Current Communications is not clear.

Officials said the Dallas-Fort Worth area likely would have it by the second half of 2006.

“D-FW will be the first area we serve,” said Bill Berkman, chairman and co-founder of Current Communications Group, based in Germantown, Md. He refused during a teleconference Monday to say exactly when other communities would be added.

“Waco is an important part of our service area,” said Chris Schein, a media spokesman for TXU. But he said the decision on when and where to provide broadband Internet capability rests with Current Communications.

Under the terms of the agreement, TXU will pay $150 million over 10 years to use the smart-grid network that Current creates in Texas.

TXU also will acquire equity in the company, whose shareholders already include Cinergy Corp., EnerTech Capital, Goldman Sachs Group, Google Inc. The Hearst Corp. and Liberty Associated Partners, of which Liberty Media Corp. is a limited partner.

Current Communications calls itself the nation’s leading provider of broadband over power line (BPL) solutions. It can use this technology to hook up customers to the Internet using electrical outlets in homes.

But TXU is interested in using the technology to improve its efficiency.

Schein said with this technology, TXU can more effectively detect problem areas and prevent or repair power failures. It also can have an automated system for meter reading, eliminating personal visits to homes and businesses.

“At the beginning of the year,” Schein said, “we said we wanted to improve our reliability performance and do so in a cost effective manner.”

Instead of pursuing that goal by placing more people in the field, Schein said, it pursued an agreement with Current Communications to create a smart grid.

It just so happens that the same equipment needed to provide smart-grid technology also can be used to provide broadband Internet service over electric wires.

Schein said he believes the grid will provide economic development benefits to communities, including Waco, served by TXU Electric Delivery.

“As recently as a decade ago, you judged the quality of power by turning on a light switch,” he said. “In today’s high-tech world, with all the computers out there, you have to have much higher quality. You can’t have fluctuations in voltage because even a short outage is detrimental to business. That is something relocating businesses will look at.”

As for high-speed Internet service, officials with Current said they could not say exactly how much the service would cost. In Cincinnati, where Current has partnered with Cinergy Corp. to track Cinergy’s power grid, Current has a multi-tiered system charging customers anywhere from $19.99 to $44.99 a month, said spokeswoman Melissa Kresse.

“This is just another business getting into high-speed Internet. It’s the consumer’s choice,” said Stacy Schmitt, spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable in Waco. It offers high-speed Internet service for $44.95 a month through RoadRunner.

From The Waco Herald-Tribune.

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