Updated: Thu, 02/07/2013 - 13:00

Georgia Power finishes downtown Savannah rebuild

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Georgia Power is done digging downtown.
The power utility celebrated the completion of its historic district network upgrade Thursday, more than six years after the $80 million project began. The work included replacing 112 miles of cable, rebuilding or upgrading 342 manholes, installing 79 new power transformers and building 12 additional transformer vaults in a 40-block area.
Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers and the utility’s regional leader, Cathy Hill, marked the upgrade’s completion by dedicating a commemorative manhole cover medallion at the intersection of Bryan and Bull streets.
“We made a commitment to make Savannah a world-class city from an electric grid standpoint,” Bowers said. “The network in Savannah today surpasses any network in the United States.”
City government and civic officials, including Mayor Edna Jackson and Bill Hubbard of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, joined other community and business leaders at the event.
Jackson praised Georgia Power as a partner and said the interruptions caused by the work were necessary for “progress.”
Hubbard called the process “seamless” and said the crews involved in the process – six involved with construction and as many as eight laying the new cable – were professional and polite.
“It was not nearly the inconvenience many were concerned it would be,” Hubbard said.
Georgia Power launched the project in 2006 shortly after a merger with Savannah Electric. The underground network dates to the late 1800s and was built by Savannah Electric’s predecessor, Edison Electric. The infrastructure was constructed of outdated materials, such as terra cotta and brick-and mortar ducts and conduits, according to Brad Wilkinson, a senior engineer with Georgia Power and the de facto project manager.
Most of the wiring dated to at least the 1930s and was low capacity. Downtown’s power needs more than doubled between the mid 1990s and the start of the project and resulted in overloads, Wilkinson said.
Those overloads contributed to a pair of explosions and fires in a five-month span in 2008. The incidents prompted Georgia Power to install clamps on several downtown manhole covers and to accelerate the project. The upgrade wasn’t originally scheduled for completion until 2015.
The updated network boosts power capacity downtown to 13,000 volts from 4,000. Much of the infrastructure is now made of reinforced concrete or PVC.
The underground network should comfortably serve Savannah for the next 100 years, Wilkinson said. Yet it was designed to easily be expanded and upgraded.
“We worked on, over and under the streets of Savannah to ensure we have a system capable of serving the city for many years into the future,” Hill said.
Georgia Power will now turn its attention to upgrading the rest of Savannah’s electric grid. The utility has committed $350 million to those improvements, said Bowers, the CEO.

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