Whitepath Electric Reliability: Working Together Toward a Solution – Georgia Transmission

Whitepath Electric Reliability: Working Together Toward a Solution

Meeting the Need for Reliable Power

At Georgia Transmission, it’s our mission to help keep the lights on across Georgia. Working with the local EMCs, we serve and strengthen communities by safely ensuring reliable, affordable electricity is available at the flip of a switch.

We know that intermittent power outages occur in the Boardtown Road area and impact the homes, farms and other businesses that depend on reliable power. Georgia Transmission has been working closely with Amicalola EMC to look for solutions to address this issue.

These outages are largely due to the distance and terrain that the two electric circuits serving the area have to travel across, so one of our solutions is the addition of the Whitepath Sub-Transmission Line and associated Substation. This will help prevent voltage drops during peak use and keep the lights on for hundreds more people.

The Whitepath project is just one component of a broader effort to improve service to Amicalola EMC members in the Boardtown Road area.

Next Steps Toward a Solution

Listening to community voices is an essential part of everything we do, which is why Georgia Transmission is collaborating with public officials and keeping a listening ear toward the concerns of local residents. After holding public meetings in August, we’ve reviewed feedback and are considering how to best move forward. The goal we all want to achieve is reliable power for the Boardtown Road area in the least impactful way possible.

For these reasons, we’re undertaking an extensive review and analysis of the two routes the community expressed interest in us examining—GA Highway 515 and the CSX railroad corridor. This will likely take several months as we further consider the requirements and constraints of those routes, as well as the impacts on other property owners in the Gilmer County community.

In the meantime, Georgia Transmission remains committed to working together to reach a solution that solves energy needs in the community while minimizing overall impact. We greatly appreciate the community’s continued willingness to engage in open conversation with us about this challenging situation.

Please review the common questions being asked about the project and check back regularly for more news and updates.

Common Questions

Will this line directly benefit the people on Boardtown Road?

Yes. Intermittent power outages occur in the Boardtown Road area, impacting homes, farms, chicken houses and other businesses that depend on reliable electricity.

This map shows the area where those challenges will be addressed by the Whitepath Electric Reliability Project.

Two of the factors creating this situation are the distance and terrain that the two circuits that serve the area must travel across, which adversely impact restoration times. The Boardtown Road area is currently served from two circuits that parallel each other out of the Boardtown Substation. When there is an outage, homes and farms all along Boardtown Road and the surrounding area are all impacted.
The addition of the Whitepath Sub-Transmission Line and Substation will allow six circuits as opposed to the two circuits, creating multiple paths for the electricity to be rerouted when outages occur. These additional pathways increase reliability and also improve service voltage by reducing the number of member homes and businesses from 1,600 per circuit to 550 per circuit. Reducing the number of members per circuit will mean the lights stay on for hundreds more people when problems arise instead of outages impacting the entire area.

The Whitepath project is just one component of a broader effort Amicalola EMC is taking to improve service to members in the Boardtown Road area. Remote controlled, automated smart-grid switches will be placed at junction points, two-way feeds and along each circuit to allow fewer members to be affected by any single outage. This should also enhance restoration time as crews will be able to check fewer miles of line for problems when outages do occur.

What is the current status of plans for the proposed Whitepath sub-transmission line?

We’re undertaking an extensive review and analysis of the two routes the community expressed interest in us examining, GA Hwy 515 and the CSX railroad corridor. We anticipate this taking several months to properly conduct the examination of existing land use, environmental conditions, engineering constraints and cost of construction, operation and maintenance. As you can imagine, we must also consider impacts to other property owners in the Gilmer County community as a part of this analysis. Click here to see our advertisement in the October 28 issue of Ellijay’s Times-Courier.

Were Highway 515 or the CSX railroad corridor considered before the Boardtown Road option?

Yes. During our extensive routing and siting process, all possible alternatives were identified for study. Highway 515 and the CSX railroad corridor were among those considered. Many routing considerations of these corridors, such as access, number of homes affected, route constraints, terrain, additional line length, along with co-location with Highway 515 and the railroad were reviewed. Georgia Transmission reached out to the Georgia Department of Transportation and received notice that the route along Highway 515 would not be allowed. Likewise, we reached out to CSX and were told they were not interested in coordinating co-location with the project. Facing these initial barriers, we focused our attention on the other alternatives and completed the full analysis which led to the proposed Boardtown Road alternative. Based on our public meeting process and the feedback on the Boardtown preferred route, we wanted to ensure we had carefully reviewed all of our siting options and considered possible impacts consistent with the generally accepted routing criteria recognized by the State of Georgia.

Will this transmission line and its poles look similar to the transmission line on Highway 282?

No. The Whitepath line will be constructed and operated at 46kV, which is considered the lower voltage of sub-transmission by utilities. Many things impact the design of transmission structures, so the specific look of this line is still part of the discussion. We do know that 46kV sub-transmission poles, insulators and conductors are smaller in size, height, weight and visual impact than other transmission facilities such as the 230kV line on Highway 282.

Does a roadside transmission line route require 125 feet of tree clearing?

No. One of the benefits of constructing a transmission line along a roadside is that tree clearing is greatly reduced. To help explain what the clearing will be for a roadside project, it’s important to know that with transmission lines, the easement (which includes the clearing) is determined from the centerline rather than the pole. Overhead transmission lines are composed of the poles, as well as the actual electrical wire that spans overhead. The centerline is where that wire crosses above the ground. The determining factor for the easement on a roadside route is 25 feet from the wire position along the centerline. This is one of the benefits of going roadside - the centerline extends over the roadway, meaning the vegetative area that must be cleared off of the roadway is significantly reduced. A curve in the roadway can require more or less clearing depending on the amount of the curve. All in all, this 25 feet from centerline easement is far less than with a cross-country route where you might see 125 feet of clearing.

Does Georgia Transmission have the right of eminent domain if property owners don’t agree to sell an easement?

While Georgia Transmission does have the right of eminent domain, our track record of working with property owners to fairly compensate them and mitigate concerns is well-documented. In fact, we have had zero condemnations in the past five years. In Georgia Transmission's decades-long history, we have been able to reach agreements on more than 97 percent of all property negotiations. Eminent domain is used only as a last resort. In the very rare occasions when it must be used, we ultimately have to make the decision to prevent a property owner or select group of property owners from denying an entire community necessary electricity. Georgia Law has established processes for higher voltage power lines which are required to be followed in order to respect property owners’ rights. As the Whitepath Sub-Transmission line is 46 kV, Georgia Transmission Corporation has exceeded those prescribed processes by conducting the three public meetings to seek input from the community. We appreciate the community’s continued willingness to engage in dialogue and open conversation with us as we solve this electrical deficiency in the least impactful way possible.

How does Georgia Transmission develop proposed routes for transmission lines?

While it may seem as easy as simply drawing a line from point A to point B on a map, selecting a transmission line route is far more complicated. Because we know routing decisions affect individuals and communities across Georgia, a significant amount of time and effort goes into evaluating possible routes for new power lines. At Georgia Transmission, we not only spend time behind the desk analyzing technical data, we also put boots on the ground to study historic and environmental conditions. We use a nationally recognized siting process, partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and a broad range of stakeholders to ensure we make sound decisions supported by thoughtful reasoning. The siting process takes into consideration various factors relevant to specific communities and projects including existing transportation and utility corridors, existing land usage, existing environmental conditions, engineering practices and cost of construction, and operation and maintenance of the proposed project.

Next, our teams work to identify alternative corridors by collecting data and dividing larger areas into smaller sections so they can evaluate co-location opportunities, engineering challenges and the impact of new lines to both communities and the natural environment. Having organized the study area, engineers and planners collaborate to identify specific routes for the new lines and narrow down the options. Throughout the process, we capture the data and insights on a suitability map. With a list of possible routes, we evaluate the options and select a practicable and feasible path. We then gather on-site data by visiting the site to assess the environmental, economic and community impact of any new construction and other on-site considerations.

In addition to the work we do on our end, we also gather input from the community. Public meetings, discussions with elected officials, and one-on-one talks with property owners are a key part of the process to make a thoughtful decision – a decision that addresses energy needs in the community while minimizing overall impact. Our emphasis is on serving our communities as good neighbors. For more information, see our siting methodology fact sheet here.

Why don’t you get input from property owners before developing a proposed route?

There are two very important reasons. First, the State of Georgia adopted a mandate several years ago that applies to not only Georgia Transmission but also Georgia Power and the two other members of Georgia’s Integrated Transmission System (ITS). To ensure a process that is consistent and well-considered, House Bill 373 requires that the utility select a practical and feasible route for the location of the electric transmission line based on extensive analysis. In selecting the route, the utility “shall consider existing land uses in the geographic area where the line is to be located, existing corridors, existing environmental conditions in the area, engineering practices related to the construction and operation of the line, and costs related to the construction, operation, and maintenance of the line.” This is required to be done before the public meetings so the community can offer input based on a route that has been determined to be feasible and reasonable by all these standards. Second, coming to the community with a blank sheet of paper would pit neighbor against neighbor. “Don’t put it here – put it over there” contentions could rip apart communities and cause unnecessary and long-term division.

Does construction equipment used to build lines impact local bridges and roads?

No, our construction contractors know they must “do no harm” in the communities where we work. We always research the limits of the bridges and roads in the areas of a project, and we manage setups and techniques to minimize impacts. For example, where necessary we use mats to protect roads, curbs, driveways and landscaping. Our land agents work with landowners to manage any issues, should they arise. We work with the County and City to ensure we leave public bridges or roadways as we found them.

Are there historic areas or cemeteries located near Boardtown Road that may be adversely affected by this project?

As part of our corporate commitment to historic preservation we follow the requirements of Section 106 and Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Georgia Historic Preservation Act. As part of our transmission line siting process, we identify historic and cultural resources within the project area that are listed and/or eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Proximity to these resources are then evaluated during the Alternate Corridor and Alternate Route phases of the siting process. For example, we’re aware of the cemetery located near the proposed substation site, and it is not on the section of the parcel we have acquired.

Do power lines affect property values and how is fair market value determined?

It’s important to remember that no two properties are the same and a wide variety of factors affect property values. Once GTC finalizes a transmission line route, we conduct independent appraisals and internal estimates to assess the fair market value of affected properties. Appropriate sales data also may be used. We provide a written statement and summary of the fair market value to each affected property owner and this serves as the basis of GTC’s offer to purchase property or to acquire an easement.

Has Georgia Transmission evaluated burying the transmission line?

Yes, underground construction is always evaluated. However unlike lower voltage distribution lines that are sometimes buried to serve homes, it is rare anywhere in the country for high-voltage transmission lines to be built underground. The reasons for this all directly impact property owners and EMC members. Typically a request to bury transmission lines is to preserve the natural look of the existing right-of-way. However, construction of underground transmission lines actually requires more disturbance to the surrounding land because of the large concrete-encased ditches and vaults necessary to safely maintain and repair the line. Even when buried, these easements must be cleared and maintained in the same manner and specifications as overhead lines.

In addition to construction and environmental challenges, increased costs associated with underground transmission lines impact EMC members and actually can negatively impact reliability. On average, underground transmission line projects can be six to 10 times more expensive for EMC members than overhead lines, and outages for underground lines can take more than a week to locate and repair versus hours for overhead lines. Additionally, compared to overhead lines, underground lines not only have longer repair times, but much shorter life spans.

How are transmission line easements maintained?

To provide safe and reliable electric service, trees and vegetation must be managed along power line corridors. The majority of pruning and cutting occurs during routine line maintenance cycles. This vegetation management plan uses best practices to promote low-growing vegetation beneficial for wildlife while managing tall, woody species that could interfere with reliability.

Are there any health concerns related to living in close proximity to a transmission line?

This question relates to the electromagnic fields often associated with transmission lines. The reality is that we all live in close proximity to electromagnetic fields every day since it is naturally emitted from the earth and also from the many power sources we rely on in our homes, schools and businesses. Scientifically, peer-reviewed panels and more than three decades of research studies have concluded there is no direct cause-effect relationship between electromagnetic fields associated with high-voltage power lines (or any other electric source) and harmful health effects.

It is important to remember the strength of a magnetic field decreases dramatically with increasing distance from the source. In fact, many household items, like microwaves, may impart much stronger electromagnetic fields on people than do power lines.

What is Georgia Transmission’s relationship to Amicalola EMC?

Georgia Transmission is owned by – and accountable to – 38 of the state’s EMCs. Our high voltage power lines and substations serve as the link between Georgia’s energy generators and the local electric cooperatives. Working with local EMCs, Georgia Transmission helps to ensure energy is available for more than four million people across Georgia.

Where does the money for your projects come from?

We are a cooperative owned by our EMC members, so they pay for any transmission lines and substations we build. We do not have investors or stockholders and do not receive state or federal funding. We have a list of planned/scheduled projects each year that are prioritized based on system need. Georgia Transmission and our 38 EMC members cooperate with other utilities in the state to plan and operate the power grid to avoid redundancy and added cost.

Has Georgia Transmission met with the public about this project?

Yes. In addition to the dozens of one-on-one conversations we’ve had with members of the community, we held three public meetings in August. These meetings were open to anyone interested in sharing input and learning more about the proposed route. They were very well attended. Certified letters were mailed to nearly 300 property owners in the Boardtown Road area inviting them to the meetings, and a notice was published in the Times-Courier newspaper. We also reached out with information to elected officials from both the City and County, as well as Speaker Ralston and Senator Gooch. Click here for copies of the information distributed at the public meetings. Click here for a presentation given online to the Gilmer County Chamber on October 29, 2020.

Additional Questions

If you have additional questions, or would like more information, please contact Terry Cole, Public Affairs Director at terry.cole@gatrans.com or 770-270-7283.