Smart Grid

Fiber Optics Boost Idaho Co-op

By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer Published: August 13th, 2012

Just outside the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park is a man-made marvel that’s been making headlines recently, thanks to an electric cooperative.

Doug Schmier, director of Fall River Electric (r), cuts a fiber optic pipe, as West Yellowstone Vice Mayor Pierre Martineau looks on. (Photo By: Ted Austin)

Doug Schmier, director of Fall River Electric (r), cuts a fiber optic pipe, as West Yellowstone Vice Mayor Pierre Martineau looks on. (Photo By: Ted Austin)

In a festive July 31 ribbon-cutting ceremony, a crowd of community and business leaders was on hand to watch officials from Fall River REC and the town’s vice mayor mark the completion of a fiber optic project, the first of its kind in West Yellowstone.

Encased in a 60-mile transmission line upgrade, the fiber optic network brings high-speed Internet to the region and boosts My Meter, the Ashton, Idaho, co-op’s Web-based tool that helps members manage and track energy use.

While the co-op’s advanced metering infrastructure system depends on power line carrier communications, fiber optics were necessary for several reasons, said Bryan Case, general manager.

“Using fiber optics communications as a data back-haul system increased the amount of information that can be collected frequently, and direct fiber access improved reliability and also enhanced the security of the member data collected,” he said. “These are the advantages fiber gives us as a co-op.”

The co-op is one of several distribution systems taking part in a $39.1 million federal smart grid project through its power supplier, PNGC Power. The Portland, Ore., G&T won the grant in 2010 from the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment program to install more than 97,000 smart meters and other equipment throughout the Northwest.

The co-op also chose fiber optics because the technology allows transmission of data from the remote and mountainous parts of its service area in a more dependable and secure way, unlike wireless or cellular, Case said.

And like other co-ops with fiber optics projects, Fall River views broadband as an economic development tool.

The co-op will need only 12 of the 72 fibers installed. The other “spare dark fibers,” said Case, will be leased to third-party contractors and tourist-dependent businesses in the area.

“Fiber optics are also connecting our district offices and businesses along that 55-mile route where high-speed broadband was previously limited,” Case said.

NRECA’s Cooperative Research Network wants to study how co-ops, like Fall River Electric, are upgrading their telecom systems to prepare for smart grid. Read more about CRN’s upcoming smart grid/telecom guide.

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