What to Know About Amicalola Upgrades in Big Canoe

By Lydell Mack

POA Director of Operations

The arctic Christmas that Big Canoe recently experienced taught us many things, not the least of which is how much Amicalola Electric Membership Corporation has been stepping up in Big Canoe.

During that frosty snap, the utility’s crews were a constant, reassuring presence in Big Canoe, working to restore power for hundreds of Property Owners whose homes had gone dark just as many were hosting out-of-town relatives.

Amicalola and the Big Canoe POA management recently met to highlight how the utility is addressing issues while working to ensure our community is better positioned moving forward. Below are some of the topics around electricity in Big Canoe that were addressed at the meeting.

Q: What is Amicalola doing to improve its service in Big Canoe?

A: The utility is in the middle of an eight-year improvement project to the electrical system in Big Canoe, spending an average of $2 million annually. Amicalola is upgrading service within Big Canoe from the 7,200-volt cable that was the standard when it was installed in the ’70s to the modern-day 14,400-volt cable. The improvement, which is tentatively scheduled to be completed within four years, will reduce the likelihood of outages. Amicalola is also installing automatic switches that reduce the time needed to restore power after an outage.

Q: How can the automatic switches make a difference?

A: Switches allow Amicalola to feed power to Big Canoe from a different source as needed – electricity to Big Canoe is currently provided by six feeds into the community. The upgrades to the switches will enable Amicalola to more readily switch from one power feed to another, which will help reduce the possibility of a power outage.

Q: Why is the project taking a total of eight years?

A: When Big Canoe was created, its ecologically focused founders were committed to ensuring that the community remain environmentally compatible with its natural surroundings. Underground power lines rather than unsightly overhead lines were used. While that move maintained Big Canoe’s legendary vistas, it also made accessing the power line – placed under the paved streets rather than along the roadway shoulders – much more difficult and time-consuming.

Q: How does Amicalola’s relationship differ from that of Utilities Inc of Georgia, which provides water to Big Canoe?

A: UIG specifically serves Big Canoe and has an office on the property. Amicalola has a service area that covers 1,100 miles in Dawson and Pickens along with portions of Bartow, Cherokee, Fannin, Forsyth, Gilmer, Gordon, Lumpkin and Murray counties. Amicalola is owned by the members it serves.

Q: Where can I learn about a power outage in Big Canoe?

A: The most accurate information Amicalola releases regarding power outages is on their website at www.amicalolaemc.com through the use of the Outage Viewer. This tool shows outages taking place in real-time, if a crew has been assigned, the number of members affected, and other stats.

Q: Why do we typically see outages in Big Canoe?

A: While it’s tempting to point the finger at, say, the increased stress on the grid caused by homes cranking up their air conditioning or their heat, the most common culprit behind power outages is lightning. Because Big Canoe has such rocky soil, lighting can affect underground powerlines. Exacerbating the situation is that decaying trees that were buried can produce an acid that can break down the casing meant to protect the old power lines originally installed a half-century ago. The new power lines currently being installed are encased in a thicker, more durable sheath that’s less prone to damage from lightning strikes.

Q: What is Amicalola doing to make its work less disruptive to the Property Owners in Big Canoe?

A: Amicalola is scheduled to start work on Sanderlin Mountain Drive in April as part of a project where UIG will simultaneously install new waterlines. The combined efforts by the two utilities to complete their work at the same time – rather than having to rip up the road twice – will create a less disruptive solution and reduce the duration time of the project.

Q: When there’s work on power lines in Big Canoe, why does there always seem to be a big white Pike electric truck parked nearby?

A: They are here on behalf of Amicalola to stay on track with the upgrades. The community-wide project is about 60 percent completed.

Q: If I report a loss of power, why might my situation not be addressed immediately?

A: If there is a major storm or disaster, crews will come to address a loss of power. However, those same crews can be diverted for something more pressing, such as a downed overhead powerline. Much like Big Canoe’s Public Works crews get pulled in different directions and have their tasks re-prioritized if there is a storm or emergency, Amicalola crews are sometimes also forced to adjust their schedules.

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