Project Overview

Purpose of The Fiber Optic System

In 2018, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) embarked on an aggressive buildout of a system-wide fiber optic network to provide high-speed communications across its electric distribution system. This fiber optic network will connect our substations and all three district offices to increase system communications speed and bandwidth capacity for the transfer of power system data.

Having reliable communications available at every point on the system increases the reliability of the electric system. High-speed communications with substations, reclosers, and circuit breakers will allow for data transfer that will help predict outages; the location of a potential fault can be determined, and corrections made before an outage occurs. When outages do occur, promptly locating the cause and restoring power is made easier thanks to this high-speed fiber network.

This network also aids in managing and reducing power costs. The ability to monitor and control voltage regulators downline, as well as in the substations, will allow for optimum voltage control during peak periods to reduce MEC costs. Additionally, the ability to have high-speed communication to each meter allows for better load monitoring and interactive load controls for those members who choose to reduce load.

This network will also facilitate tighter integration of future distributed resources, especially with the advent of battery storage and the expanded use of electric cars.

The fiber system is also being utilized by EMPOWER Broadband, a wholly owned subsidiary of MEC, to overcome the lack of reliable, affordable high-speed internet access across our rural communities.

Why Doesn’t MEC Sell Internet Service?

Virginia state regulations do not allow electric cooperatives to sell internet service, but they do allow electric cooperatives to own a subsidiary that may engage in any business legal in Virginia. The intent of the rule is to ensure that electric rates do not subsidize other business enterprises.

These regulations are why MEC leases fiber to this separate, but wholly owned subsidiary, EMPOWER Broadband; EMPOWER serves as the retail telecommunications and internet services provider.

MEC is prohibited from providing its member list as sales leads to EMPOWER Broadband. Joint marketing is also prohibited, which is the reason EMPOWER pricing and other service information are not included with monthly bills and are not on the MEC webpage or MEC Facebook page. Accordingly, MEC members who want to know more about EMPOWER Broadband’s offerings should see its webpage Visit the Empower Broadband Website.