Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lafayette Pulls Down $11,630,000 in Smart Grid Monies (Updated)

Congratulations to Lafayette and Lafayette Utilities System....

Their recovery act grant application returned $11,630,000 dollars to the city in order to install a smart electrical meter system in the city. This has been something that LUS director Huval has long sought and winning the grant means that it can go forward much sooner. The "Brief Project Description" put up by the grant-giving agency says:
Install more than 57,000 smart meters to reach the full service territory with two-way communications, enable consumers to reduce energy use with smart appliances and dynamic pricing, and automate the electric transmission and distribution systems to improve monitoring and reliability.
We've commented here before on the potential of smart meters using the internet to communicate; it is all about shaving the top off peak power usage. These meters allow users to save money by monitoring their own usage and shifting the use of electricty-hogging services to times when power is cheap. (Charge your new electric car between 1 and 4:30 in the morning and get a 20% discount just like the big industrial users do now.) And they'd allow the electrical provider to spend less money on peak capacity. (We won't have to build an expensive new plant if most of those new electric cars charge during off-peak hours.)

Now I'll be very interested in seeing just how that "two-way communications" will be accomplished. Fiber to the home works great...for those that have fiber. But to serve all the city's electrical customers it would likely prove cheaper to lay down a WiFi network — after all we've already got fiber running down every block. Just hang the WiFi off the polls and put a node on every meter.

That gives the city a pervasive cloud of wifi. Use a muscular 802.11N version and there'd be plenty left over to give LUS Fiber subscribers a very nice wireless addition to their already capable network.

Stay tuned. There'll surely be more to this story.

(Hat tip to Mike for the lead on this story.)

Update 10/31/09:
Both the Advertiser and the Advocate have now picked up this story. LUS apparently issued a press release and Huval has talked to reporters. The most interesting new tidbit is in the Advertiser's article:
Because the grant requires a match from LUS, it remains unclear whether the city will actually be able to receive the funds.

LUS Director Terry Huval said the application was submitted with plans of a rate increase for all LUS customers. But because some City-Parish Council members have opposed the increase, a final vote on it was delayed last month by Lafayette Consolidated Government officials, and it is unknown when that vote will take place.

Since the rate increase is in jeopardy, the smart grid project is temporarily off the table, but could make it back onto a project list if the increase eventually passes.

"Unless we're able to find funding for that or get the rate adjustment, we would not be able to meet the match requirements," Huval said.
Here's to hoping that our green council (who are all in their first term) has the good sense to realize that this is the sort of "expense" that more than pays for itself. A "rate increase" that allows customers to save money through their own decisions and helps keep the utility from having to pay for excess, seldom used capacity saves the people money in both the long and the short run. Especially when our federal tax dollars will pay for half of the cost. It's a one-time, limited-time offer, folks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One Story? Economic Development

Some days there's not "a" story but several stories taken together that tell the tale. I suspect that today is such a day.

Here's a list of marginally interesting stories that have hit today: Firm relocating to Lafayette (Advocate), City lands corporate office (Advertiser), LUS Fiber expands Internet service (Advertiser), Lafayette, LA: Best places ranking: #2 among midsize metro areas (CNN Money) and Lafayette Location Of Transcom Announces 700 New Jobs (KATC--from earlier this month). Each one interesting and encouraging enough in its own right.

Together they tell a tale of a city that, even in these hard times, is expanding its job market, making itself attractive to newcomers, and is providing shockingly cheap net services to small businesses. Most of the story, frankly, is in those headlines...the meat of the stories add detail but not substance.

Without making the silly claim that all of this was driven by fiber, I have to say that I think that LUS' fiber network is not getting its fair share of the credit in the stories. The 700 jobs that Transom brought? Don't recall those guys? Well, Transcom is the new corporate parent of NuConn...the call center guys that constituted Lafayette's first big, directly-connected-to-the-fiber-vote win. Back when NuConn/Transcom first came to town they were clear that fiber—and the community's gumption in voting it in—were the deciding factor in coming to Lafayette. As far as being able to run an engineering/consulting firms' national corporate office out of a mid-tier city like Lafayette? NOT possible without really massive, really world-class connectivity. The fact that it is as cheap as dirt here is only a huge cherry on top of having that sort of connectivity available at all. Engineering firms are among the most voracious of bandwidth users. Without really good connectivity there'd be no such firm considering a move to our fair town. And that brings up the announcement of a 100 megs of symmetrical bandwidth being available to every business, small or large, in every neighborhood, rich or poor, in the city for the crazy price of $199.95. Or the low end (low?) version of 10 megs symmetrical for $64.95? This has got to be the best place to start up your own garage internet business around.

Credit where credit's due: LUSFiber is making a big difference.

Only in Louisiana

In the Only in Louisiana Department:

What to do if your commercial fishing ecology is threatened by an invasive new creature that might breed wildly....How does the state department responsible for such problems react?

Well, only in Louisiana: You publish a recipe. ;-)

From the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, via the IND blog:
Broiled Lemon and Garlic Tiger Prawns
1 1/2 pounds tiger prawns, peeled and deveined
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven on broiler setting. With a sharp knife, remove tails from prawns, and butterfly them from the underside. Arrange prawns on broiler pan. In a small saucepan, melt butter with garlic and lemon juice. Pour 1/4 cup butter mixture in a small bowl, and brush onto prawns. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over shrimp. Place broiler pan on top rack, and broil prawns for 4 to 5 minutes, or until done. Serve with remaining butter mixture for dipping.
They'd make a good experiment for your best BBQ shrimp recipe, too...and this sounds a whole lot better than those recipes for Nutria Rat Gumbo. (On the other hand, I have it on the best authority that Nutria and Garfish Gumbo was served to unsuspecting toddlers in the Houma region as far back as 1970—nobody needs the wildlife and fisheries guys to give us any ideas in the culinary arena.)

(Off topic, but too damned good to pass up.)