2011-11 Riverport Board of Trade, Craig Hubley on Riverport Electric future

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The following roughly outlines the talk as planned in Riverport, NS about Riverport Electric. It was given for the Riverport District Board of Trade semi-annual dinner on November 22, 2011. The actual talk, slides and video changed drastically in tone and focus after the tragic death of Valerie Romkey, but was of roughly the same scope. See Lunenburg Region power grid 2012 for an update including other materials, MEUNS for an overview of public power districts in Nova Scotia, and the new grid on the tech. See Eastlink Rural Connect for the relation of Riverport's utility to the rural data cap problem and its ultimate solution.


Craig Hubley

  • from LaHave Islands, father Douglas from Bridgewater
  • systems, infrastructure, journalism, finance, dating
  • some trade skills in electricity, computer networks
  • sustainability policy work (ICLEI, Greens, CEG, IH)
  • probably know me as yellow biker passed on the road
  • or if not, that opinionated guy on radio talk shows
  • first public talk in 14 years - this really matters


  • thanks to everyone who got us here, esp. Valerie
  • what's an electric co-op? how'd Riverport get one?
  • why is there so much talk about "the grid" now?
  • what technologies and businesses are affected?
  • why is a rural electric co-op so very important?
  • what's special about Riverport and its location?
  • what do leading small electric companies do now?
  • visions, risks of status quo, major player moves

the new grid[edit]

The generic introduction outlines the history, technology and issues of the smart grid. It is summarized below in context of Riverport District.

meanwhile in Riverport[edit]

Bell service maps Bell maps

little light commission that could[edit]

  • 1920
    • Riverport was a thriving community
    • Lunenburg was the richest town in Canada
    • Electric Light Commission (RELC) founded
  • 1920s-1990s
    • reciprocal relationship with MT&T followed
    • all other NS cooperatives become town PPDs or are merged into public Nova Scotia Power
  • 1997-8
    • Nova Scotia Power (NSPI) now owned by Emera
    • town councils ran six other public utilities
    • Kentville NS sold utility to NSPI
    • remaining six unite into common corporation: "Municipal Electric Utilities of Nova Scotia"
    • Valerie Romkey was its Secretary & Treasurer
  • 2000s
    • Six small distributors (with Berwick, Antigonish, Canso) share distribution with NSPI
    • NS part of Eastern interconnection [NG picture] no "Canadian" strategy is practical
    • Some supply-sided projects (Sprott, Irving, Muskrat Falls proposals, feed-in tariffs)
    • Politicians (e.g. Stephen McNeil) accuse Emera/NSPI of siphoning $100M/year out of NS
  • 2011
    • RELC owns majority of poles in the District
    • online billing introduced (thanks RDBoT!)
    • active exploration of alternatives to NSPI
    • new commissioners (thanks Gary!) and ideas
    • longstanding administrator (thanks Valerie!)
    • longstanding reciprocal relationship with Bell
    • Emera deployed powerline meters in Bangor, ME
  • pressures and opportunities
    • NS government unclear on role/rights of RELC
    • new grid standards require both power and data
    • demand response eased by on-demand generation

Riverport's edge[edit]

  • might appear to be in decline
    • many empty houses all winter (seasonal towns)
    • cell dead zones (requires "edge network" fix)
    • being bypassed (Bridgewater sucking in people)
    • losing coherence (lost grocery, bank, school)
    • social ties of young people will be elsewhere
  • obvious, and some hidden, advantages
    • proximity to tourist draws with more privacy
    • real estate under-valued for this coastline
    • bike villages (Riverport, Rose Bay, Kingsburg)
    • fairhaven, marine and shipbuilding businesses
    • deep water up LaHave River to Bridgewater/103
    • many technical professionals here year-round
    • very close ( to center of English speaking net
  • huge changes 2012-2030
    • Irving Shipbuiding moving business down coast
    • Composites Atlantic building parts for 787 etc
    • NS promises grid integration with NL, NB, USA
    • Hibernia lands 59ms London-NYC cable in Halifax
    • nerds notice - and worship Big Bang theory video

controversies and choices[edit]

  • US/California says customer owns all the data
  • three common approaches to "the smart meter"
    • cheap wireless network paid by customers
    • powerline network paid by taxpayers (EU, IN)
    • robust fibre backbone paid by telecom users
  • controversial (pricing, "radiation", privacy)
    • "radiation" an excuse to object to pricing
    • "interference" from early powerline networks
    • fibre inherently expensive, ends in old wire
  • regardless of wiring/meter, it's one big grid
  • wrong approach can exterminate/create a utility
    • PG&E lost several to local California co-ops
    • XCel Energy lost its mandate in Boulder, CO
    • Emera uses powerline-network meters in Bangor
    • EPB rolled out gigabit to six counties in TN
      • EPB and six other small utilities seek to expand [1]
  • the big mistake: time of use pricing before the customer has access to data, devices or DR

the communications picture[edit]

  • gigabit-or-better Internet connections in N.A.
    • very likely rolled out with/by power companies
    • Verizon stopped FTTH, partnered with power cos
    • EPB in Chattanooga: gigabit Internet $350/mo [2]
  • why? much more data is coming in on less wire
    • fibre optic networks carry Internet, TV, voice
    • Internet radio already in homes, IP TV soon also
    • Voice over IP (VoIP), e.g. Skype, widely used
    • wireless devices proliferating (even absurdly)
    • 3G/4G cell networks getting competition from 5G
    • power distributor perfectly positioned for this
  • phone and pad as "universal remote" for your home
    • demos by innovators (Google, Apple, GE, Microsoft)
    • phone/pad uses NFC, Bluetooth, 3G/4G, WiFi or USB
    • these devices run on Android, iOS, QNX, Windows8
  • ad hoc networks not viable for large scale control
    • regulators have ruled them unfit for smart grid
    • utilities need dedicated secure AES-128 networks
    • data demands will rapidly rise to choke wireless
  • Atheros approach: powerline into room, then 60GHz
  • Broadcom approach: IPv6 & Wi-Fi control ubiquitous

the small utility[edit]

  • the 'smart grid' is coming, period
    • small utilities are particularly exposed
  • small utilities must make a choice
    • lag: subsidize waste, avoid change
    • lead: take risks, raise new revenue
  • you own (55% of) the poles - a decisive advantage
    • staff capable of handling electric & other cable
    • in a good position to re-negotiate relationships
  • you are a co-op, not a town utility - no politics
    • the citizens own the utility and can't be fooled
    • powerful citizens have no more leverage than you
  • can leverage carrier attention, can't be ignored
    • Bell may bring FibreOp to West LaHave sooner
    • new player may offer universal broadband & cell
    • industries (shipping, aerospace) may invest in a new venture to run fibre all along the coast
    • locals may form a telecom company like ecfiber.net
    • RLEC itself may run fibre, rent/sell excess strands
    • any of these may fill in "dead zones" with OpenBTS

you: the customer[edit]

  • a typical rural household's monthly bills include:
    • highest cell phone rates in the developed world
    • pay-per-GB cell/mobile data (highest in the world)
    • unlimited (but slower, 5mbps or less) fixed data
    • cable or satellite TV (worst channel choice since USSR)
    • cordless/land line (kept solely because of power outages, free incoming, and access to flat-rate calling-out plans)
    • "long distance" ("whatever that is" - Skype users)
    • electricity (and water and sewer where available)
      • metering and conservation services related to these
  • now include cost of trips obsoleted by gigabit fibre:
    • pick up and drop off rental videos (video on demand)
    • lower-priority business meetings (videoconferencing)
    • library visits (sometimes only to access faster net)
    • Internet cafe visits (faster nets with better coffee)
    • shopping trips for things better bought online (plus a hefty price savings for things much cheaper online)
  • now include the cost of your time waiting and driving, the risks of driving in bad weather, and opportunities, you miss because you can't talk for free to the world
  • now include a sad reality: kids leaving home because it isn't possible to find work at home that they like to do
    • add in the cost of visiting them, or them visiting you
    • add in the cost of hiring people to replace their help
  • now include the worst risk: having to drive to do work you could have done from home, and having an "accident"
  • if you rent, count the cost of keeping services you do not use off-season (typically "seasonal" is six months) and the cost of lost rentals to others with better links
  • is $350/month (for 1000 megabits/second) really too high a price for your life back? How about $200?

a municipal/co-operative's special advantages[edit]

  • universal contiguous coverage
  • power sales stabilize revenue
  • conservation sales stabilize revenue
  • everything except backhaul/devices paid up
  • own the underlying infrastructure already
  • can/must offer secure services to everyone
  • public trust, respect for privacy, etc.
  • ability to offer deeded "homes with tails"

"Recently hailed by the New York Times for having America’s fastest Internet (up to 1 gigabit per second available to every home and business in a 600 square mile area) and by Outside Magazine as "The Best Town Ever", Chattanooga, Tennessee, combines advanced technology infrastructure with a thriving cosmopolitan atmosphere that’s just minutes from mountains, rivers and other outdoor playgrounds. In recent years, Chattanooga’s signature lifestyle and focus on environmental stewardship has helped attract $4 billion in foreign direct investment including a Volkswagen auto assembly plant. Now, Chattanooga is putting the finishing touches on the largest and most advanced Smart Grid in the nation and using its gig network to pioneer a model for what other cities could become when bandwidth is no barrier." EPB has about 100,000 households compared to RELC's 1200 (possibly up to 2000).

It's 1-2% of the scale. Can you take 1/50th the risk?

some visions[edit]

  • Riverport fairhaven preferred to other harbours
    • clean, reliable, power cheap to draw off-peak
    • gigabit Internet to catch up with land business
    • everything metered with only one subscription
    • sufficient moorings/usage to revive town stores
  • Riverport marine businesses on secure gigabit network
    • effectively on same LAN as Irving, Composites, etc.
    • no barrier to competing in complex/military jobs
    • share huge files (e.g. AutoCAD) during conference
  • Riverport opens a trade school in electricity & networks
    • tradespeople return to work on infrastructure at home
    • eventually the community grows, gets its primary back
  • Riverport recording studio hosts UK-to-US jam sessions
    • after all, it's only a few milliseconds from the cable
    • hung over rock musicians hang out at Rose Bay General
  • John gets his own coal plant! Perhaps bottles pop too.

risks of status quo[edit]

  • there is no future for reselling power without monitoring and conserving and scheduling it, if only thanks to PEVs
  • do nothing and:
    • the town may simply die
    • you lose more key staff
    • you'll pay more for less
    • Bridgewater outcompetes you
    • coastal businesses pass you by
    • coastal visitors pass you by
    • you'll keep losing youth
    • you're a "rural" backwater
    • you'll be absorbed by NSPI
    • you'll know you "blew it"
  • this is the competition [3]
    • "record four shows at once"
    • "set your HD picture quality to 'stunning'"
    • "watch your DVR from any room"
    • "consistently fast Internet...no slowdowns"
    • "47 new channels since January"


    • $100,000 "Gig Prize™ is a competition in which students and entrepreneurs will create and test next generation Internet applications and launch businesses using Chattanooga’s blazing fast Internet" [4]

players and moves[edit]

If I were...

  • Bell Aliant: I'd bring FibreOp to West LaHave in 2012 to preclude any upstart competitors
    • deal forthrightly with pole pricing; Consider offering RELC customers discounts on FibreOp
 and RELC itself enough secure bandwidth for power-related secure services, to some closet
  • Eastlink: I'd discuss filling in dead zones with new cell service, unify coastal networks
    • committed to "100% of civic addresses" so consider partnering to offer ubiquitous service
  • a WISP: Bid to place 802.11n Wi-Fi transceivers / OpenBTS nodes on poles near dead zones
  • Emera: Engage RELC in a pilot project to test more advanced and "open" powerline gateways
  • Irving or other marine industries: Put together a consortium to connect all coastal shops
  • a Wall Street broker who likes the area: Join the consortium to get <5ms from Herring Cove
  • a professional or artisan with transatlantic customers:
  • a waterfront owner: Deploy 802.11n and wire powerline chargers for boats and shared cars
  • a concerned citizen of Riverport: Attend every RELC meeting and get to know my own grid
  • the Riverport District Board of Trade: Invite someone in to tell people what's possible
  • Gordie: I'd set a deadline by which I was either doing pre-emptive maintenance, or I quit

can we do it?[edit]

  • We only need to do the poles - gigabit into homes doesn't require fibre any more.
  • problems: gigabit is theoretical limit, hard to archive in real-life environment:
  • power strip, surge protection, noise generating equipment (NGE) slow things down

who else has? and why?[edit]

"Barnard Academy hosted an event last Thursday night that was only possible with our new connection to ECFiber. Six classrooms were alive with demonstrations of various Internet-based educational technologies. We used Gizmos, an online math/science interactive site; the educational gamebased iknowthat.com; Google Earth and Google Docs; Starfall.com; several grade- based Youtube videos; National geographic videos shown on Hulu.com; live web-cams from the San Diego zoo; and a Skype video call with a PhD student at Ohio State University. We showed a real time speed comparison [which] didn't allow us to take advantage of all the wonderful, interactive and educational places on the World Wide Web to enhance learning. The ECFiber connection was fast, constant with no glitches, slow-downs or skips in any of the presentations." - [11]

"Bringing a community-owned, subscriber-funded fiber network to East-Central Vermont."

"Public meetings to discuss local financing/network build-out options" in new towns.

A small group raised about US$900,000 to build a fiber-to-the-home network for towns that had previously been connected only by satellite Internet - more remote than us.

What do their customers say? [12]

"I find I waste a minimum of 25% of my day (my productivity) waiting for communications. I am bogged down during web -based conference calls, I am unable to video chat with my clients so I am forced to travel more frequently adding expense and more costly loss of time... (windshield time). ...

My son is currently in a University abroad, it is very disappointing when I attempt to video chat and see him after several months, only to experience drop outs and frozen screens. I am also concerned for the value of my home as lack of broadband will clearly impact its resale value and interest.

Lisa in Norwich"

"...satellite service....enabled me to live and work here permanently [but now] my download and upload speeds are under 700 kbps and 60 kbps....I can't bill for the time I waste...I am clearly losing some income because of that. But more importantly, I worry that in a few more years the satellite service will be so slow I won't be able to do my kind of work at all.

I'm settled here, have a stake and a roll in this community and this state, and I want to stay here. I know other business people and professionals just like me who love living here and have also based their livelihood on the same ever-diminishing satellite speeds. In this changing economy, people in the Green Mountains need to be able to tap into the variety of income sources outside the local area. Without broadband, our ability to reach out professionally to the world outside Central Vermont will disappear and we'll all have to move back to the cities we came from. 

A shame for us. A shame for Vermont.

Mary in Granville"

"I have three friends who work from home and often talk about moving (not their businesses, their families!) so they can have reliable internet for work. People sometimes don't purchase homes in our town when they find out how backward things are here in terms of communication.

My company allows telecommuting but I can't participate because of the poor internet access in my town. As soon as decent internet is available I will begin telecommuting 2-3 days per week, saving about 50 miles of driving, gas, pollution, per day. And over an hour of my time.

The children in our school are not motivated to learn more about the world of technology and information because so much of what they want to try doesn't work with our slow internet.

I can't effectively bank on-line.

Therese in Strafford"

"I'm an engineer with a primary home in the Boston area and I'd love to be able to spend more time up north. Communication is the barrier. I moved from dial-up to satellite internet about 2 years ago and that was a blessing; for once I could practically stay in touch with things while in Vermont. But it's limited to keeping up with email, the speed and latency are annoying and then there are the regular weather-related outages.

With a fiber connection, I can imagine the possibility of Vermont becoming our primary home. My career is such that I could work 1 or 2 days a week from up north, staying in touch with colleagues in Massachusetts and elsewhere via web meetings and video/audio links. This would bring income into the state, to the benefit of others in the area.

Dan in Thetford Center"

"We live in a very rural area with no cable or any access to fast internet. We do have dial up, but it is so restrictive and slow that we only use it for "emergencies". We feel significantly cut off from the world, not being able to send photos of our new baby to relatives or view content of emails as it should be viewed... Recently, I decided to try and do my taxes online. A process that should have taken half an hour took two hours due to connectivity issues.

We are constantly being "kicked off" of our dial up connection. If I had a fiber optic connection, I could work from home when the baby is sick, I could do wonderful and creative things with family pictures (maybe even have a blog to keep relatives up to date!), I could download the music that I want and even shop from home instead of venturing out and spending all weekend tracking down what I need with a baby in tow. Having fast internet will change the way we live and I hope that it comes soon!

Becky in Chelsea"

"I am responsible for the deliveries of products and services for a $1.5B USD solution here in the Americas (North and South America). I have folks on my team from across two continents. I have tools that I am expected to use, web portal-based tools, that I need to access for tracking orders, project status, labor rates, financials, time keeping and tracking, online meetings, etc. And I have to use a 50 Kbps dial-up account!

Needless to say, I understand now why our neighbors have left Marlboro and live in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. What takes me 90 minutes to accomplish in Vermont takes them 15 minutes. I have to drive to Keene to log onto a WiFi hotspot in Borders bookstore in order to access a web portal, to take online classes, to download tax forms, to do everything that we need to accomplish in the Information Age.

Mike in Marlboro"

"Working in health care and being a busy mom and farm wife access to the internet Is important. My job requires continueing education and many options are available on internet but need the speed for efficiency. My only option at this time is dial up. As slow as can be!!!!. I am at the very end of DSL service not much of an option there I might as well be on dial up. I work as a major hositpal and have broadband but should not use this for personal use. I on occassional could use connect to my work server but this is impossible from home.

"I have purchased a laptop to fill in some of these gaps but to get the kids in the car go to the library in the limited hours that it is open and try to accomplish anything is difficult. Sooo needless to say a fiber network available to me at my home would significantly improve life for me and my children. Remember our children are so far behind others in schools that are working on computers regularly. My child at this time has little availablity at school or home and will not have access until she is in high school. In this day and age we need to be connected.

Kathy in Strafford"

  • THEY* did it.

Why not us?

Who are we?[edit]

It's easy to see our problems:

We are using coal power which rises seas, causes storms and ultimately hurts the places and people we love. A smarter power grid will use less and let us use the wind and sun and sea/ground heat we experience every day.

We are sending our youth to Alberta to make this problem *worse* with Tar Sands, and maybe destroy all civilization and cause world wars by making climate deals with poor countries impossible (why should they cut back if we're exporting the dirtiest oil in the world?). This empties out our communities of their smartest people. We need to deal more with Europe, and follow the examples of Iceland, Sweden, and other countries like us.

We are driving too much on roads that will always be poor due to weather. We are obese. We need to walk to bus stops, bike to work, and do more work from home. This is only possible if we get transit and new gigabit communications that at least keep par with those in the larger towns like Bridgewater.

Someday an underfunded school bus, moving too few children to centralized schools, will crash on a bad road in bad weather. That day, we will all realize the true cost of letting communities thin out and lose coherence. That day, we will consider that we had other choices, like one-room school houses that used technology to assist home learning and deal with a wider range of grades. Or better buses that had the eyes of the seniors and the poor and green activists on them, and the funding of a combined system.

Let's not wait for that day. Let's change now. We have, literally, the power. You may not believe the power you have. But I ask you to consider:

Great opportunities and great people are all along this coastline. Ships are built in Halifax, Riverport and Shelburne. Ships and aircraft are built in Lunenburg. Sea transport will always be more efficient than land, and the world now cares very much about that. Transatlantic cables are shorter here than anywhere else, and all the money in the world moves through them. Our places and cultural life are celebrated and we take second place to no one. We debut operas in Lunenburg: Thanks Mary. We record world music and build sailboats in Riverport: Thanks Diego. Thanks John. We teach aboriginal and Buddhists how their faiths align. Thanks Arman. We roast great coffee. Thanks Steve. Thanks Deborah. We run power grids that work in all weather. Thanks Gordie.

That's already here. Now imagine a Bluenose III or IV or V, drawing power from solar sails of ultrathin carbon and heat differential between sun and sea, crewed by brave kids with nerves of steel like those who survived the Picton Castle, Imagine her sailing a Gulf Stream full of sea turtles and fish, flowing full again because we no longer melt the Arctic ice. Imagine her built online in a virtual world, by the best engineers and artisans on Earth, modelling her prop on the humpback's knobby fin and her sails on the wings of seabirds and her hull on the dolphin's nose. Imagine her carrying a few chosen by their communities, to explain to the world what is possible and to bring them just a little of what we make here: tires, guitars, music and people who row dories and ride bikes at 50, chop an ever-decreasing amount of firewood at 80 to feed ever warmer houses, and so live to 100 like our parents. Could we give them any greater gift than to achieve it?

What is beyond the Lunenburg that built the Bluenose, the Riverport that set up its own power grid in 1920, the Nova Scotia that led the world to representative democracy, human rights law and an end to nuclear terror?

We are the people we are waiting for. We have always been those people.

Thank you.