Arkansas Valley Electric to invest more than $27 million in fiber optic network

by Michael Tilley ( 3,075 views 

Ozark, Ark.-based Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative Corporation (AVECC) is embarking upon its Advance Smart Grid Project, a more than $27 million investment that will provide data on the coop’s electric grid and eventually provide high-speed internet access to AVECC customers.

The primary goal of the fiber optic cable project is to “allow the cooperative to measure, analyze, predict, protect, and control virtually every aspect of the electrical distribution infrastructure,” noted an Aug. 7 AVECC press release.

“Having access to real time data with our system will help us design and plan for more efficient distribution systems, which will ultimately save members money and provide greater reliability,” AVECC CEO Al Simpson said in a statement.

Greg Davis, AVECC member service manager, told Talk Business & Politics the fiber will also allow for faster and more accurate data on outages, and could provide “predictive modeling” to avoid some outages before they happen. The AVECC system serves large parts of Crawford and Sebastian counties.

The first phase of the planned six-phase project will be to connect the fiber with the system, including substations, and AVECC offices. That should take a year and will cost $27 million. The remaining phases will provide internet access – allowing the potential for upload and download speeds of up to 1 gigabit, 200 times faster than the national average – to customers in the Fort Smith metro. Davis said the first of the phases to reach customers will be in parts of Crawford and Sebastian counties with infrastructure in place for good connections to the internet.

“Each phase will take one year, so if everything goes to plan, it should be available in parts of Crawford and Sebastian Counties next year. Availability for the last phase could be six years from now,” Davis said. “We will provide regular updates on future availability via website, social media, email list and bill inserts. We will definitely let people know when we are able to provide broadband to their house.”

There is no cost estimate yet for the buildout to AVECC customers.

Of the 17 electric coops in Arkansas, the Ozarks cooperative in Northwest Arkansas was the first to roll out a fiber optic network. Davis said five others have since launched smart grid projects. Simpson said such a network helps a region “in terms of education, healthcare, economic development, quality of life and more.”

“High bandwidth, low cost and reliable power are three things that can make a community more attractive to perspective business. AVECC is committed to providing low cost and affordable electricity to members and improving the quality of life of the communities we serve. This project will allow us to do both,” Simpson said.