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As Part of $1.3B Upgrade, Georgia Power to Bury Electric Lines in Buckhead

Wed January 11, 2023 - Southeast Edition #4
Buckhead.com


A Georgia Power photo and description of the type of transformer box that must be installed “every few homes” as part of the undergrounding project. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Power)
A Georgia Power photo and description of the type of transformer box that must be installed “every few homes” as part of the undergrounding project. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Power)

Georgia Power is planning to bury electric lines in several Buckhead neighborhoods in 2023 as part of a $1.3 billion plan to improve its systems and reduce blackouts in the Atlanta area.

First, the electric utility needs to secure the necessary easements by winning over property owners in the path of the project, Buckhead.com, a neighborhood news service, reported Jan. 6.

Situated within the northernmost part of Atlanta, Buckhead is a commercial and residential district of the city that is home to high-rise office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, restaurants and condominiums centered around the intersection of Peachtree Road and Piedmont Road. It also includes a total of 43 leafy neighborhoods.

Buckhead's impressive urban forest is a huge civic asset, but also means that storms — like the remnant of Hurricane Irma in 2017 — often topple trees into power lines. Burying — or "undergrounding" — the lines is a way to avoid that problem.

"Placing power lines underground makes the grid more resilient because they're less vulnerable to storms and wind, but it's not fault-proof," said Georgia Power spokesperson Marie Bertot. "In areas prone to flooding, digging, root vegetation and other underground activity, it's not always an option."

Undergrounding also is done for aesthetic reasons as well, but the Georgia Power work in Buckhead will leave existing poles standing to carry lines from the street to houses and businesses, and for use by telecommunications companies. According to one source, additional poles may be erected to deal with the new web of connections.

Buckhead.com noted that the underground system also requires a series of transformers housed in familiar green metal boxes to be installed in front yards and along sidewalks. That means many residents in north Atlanta will be hearing from Georgia Power contractors about buying easements for those transformers.

The utility dig will take place along both the Paces Ferry and Powers Ferry road corridors in the neighborhoods of Chastain Park, Paces, and Tuxedo Park, in addition to part of North Buckhead between Ivy and Wieuca roads.

Georgia Power aims to begin construction this spring and summer, with the work lasting approximately 12 months.

Upgrading Georgia Power's Electric Grid

The project is just one part of Georgia Power's "Grid Investment Plan," a major, multiyear project of systemwide improvements. The goals are to improve the reliability of Georgia's electric grid and lessen the impact of any failures. The company is about two years into the first phase.

Bertot assured Buckhead.com that the improvements to the Georgia Power system are not performed randomly.

"We are making strategic grid investments, selecting project locations based on historical service and performance data to ensure that we are putting our resources in the right places to improve reliability," she said.

The grid has two basic components: transmission, where power is sent over long distances to localities; and distribution, which is delivering electricity into home and businesses.

On the transmission side, the plan includes replacing wires and/or structures, and substation improvements up to full reconstruction. As far as distribution, undergrounding is just one of several improvement tactics.

Others include:

  • Adding "automated line devices" that isolate outages to smaller parts of the grid.
  • Adding connections, which can provide a backup power source.
  • Relocating lines in hard-to-reach areas so that repairs are easier to make.
  • Performing line strengthening, which can refer to a variety of upgrades in localized spots that make damage or other failures less likely.

Buckhead is in line to get automated line devices and strengthened poles, according to Georgia Power. Many other neighborhoods, such as Druid Hills, will receive similar improvements, including undergrounding.

Method Designed to Cause ‘Minimal Disruption' to Public

The undergrounding method requires various metal boxes be set into the ground to provide power switching and delivery. A "single phase transformer" box must be placed "every few homes" for delivery, according to Georgia Power's website. The green boxes on a concrete pad are 26 in. high, 34 in. long and 31 in. wide and need about 10 ft. of clearance on each side.

They are installed in the public right of way, which in residential areas typically means a narrow strip of lawn along a roadway. Contractors are now contacting residents seeking easements to install the devices, offering around $1,000 as compensation.

Georgia Power noted that the easements are all voluntary, though it is unclear what happens if property owners refuse, especially on an entire street. The company's answer is that in such cases it would "explore other project alternatives," Buckhead.com said.

The utility company explained that it aims for "minimal disruption" in installing such devices, but cautioned the work might require trimming trees, removing landscaping and digging up sidewalks. Georgia Power added it would pay to replace damaged landscaping and sidewalks.

The undergrounding affects only the main distribution line, not the lines going to individual properties, so poles will remain for that purpose. Georgia Power said it notified telecommunications companies that may also use the poles about the work but cannot control whether they choose to bury their lines.

Any pole used purely for carrying a Georgia Power distribution line would be removed after the undergrounding.

Neighborhood Undergrounding Plans

Following are the general areas and timelines for the undergrounding of lines in Buckhead, according to Georgia Power. All the general areas include "most side streets in the area," the utility said.

  • Powers Ferry Road corridor between Lafayette Avenue and Blackland Road, with a projected start in the spring.
  • The North Buckhead area between Wiecua Road, Ivy Road and Ivy Chase. That work should also begin this spring.
  • Work in the Paces area around West Paces Ferry Road and Northside Drive is slated to start this summer.
  • More utility excavation is planned along the Paces Ferry Road corridor between River Forest Road and Howell Mill Road/Downwood Circle.



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