We Energies is planning to spend $700 million over the next 10 years to help harden its electrical grid against storm outages.
The plan includes moving 600 to 800 miles of power lines underground and installing rerouting and self-healing technology on the grid. The technology would help isolate power outages to as few customers as possible by altering the delivery of electricity.
Gale Klappa, executive chairman of We Energies parent company WEC Energy Group, said the utility has seen an increase in serious storms, especially last year. Severe thunderstorms on Aug. 10 left 200,000 customers without power, making it “the most significant event in the company’s modern history,” according to regulatory filings. Restoration work from the storm took until Aug. 14.
"We saw some very serious storms, I don’t think that’s going to abate necessarily,” Klappa said. “We also have some aging equipment.”
Almost 30% of the company's wood poles will be over 50 years old by 2027.
The first year of the plan, around $38 million, is included as part of the rate case filed with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission last week. The case would increase the typical residential customer’s bill by $5 to $6 per month. The program accounts for around 4% of the rate increase in 2023.
The investment would increase to $50 million in 2024 to 2026, $62 million in 2027 and $90 million for 2028 to 2032.
The company plans to target moving 60 to 80 miles of power lines underground each year.
Much of the storm hardening work planned for 2023 to 2027 is focused on the city of Milwaukee, but there are also large areas in Lake Country, northern Waukesha and southern Washington counties, between West Bend and Cedarburg, along the northern county lines of Washington and Ozaukee counties, and areas between Racine and Kenosha.
We Energies has seen the average power restoration time for major storms – those with at least 10,000 outages – or extraordinary events – those with 100,000 or more outages, trend up from less than 200 minutes in 2002 to more than 400 minutes last year.
The company estimates the storm hardening program would reduce restoration times due to severe weather by 20% to 25%, provide an 80% reduction in service interruption in areas where lines are moved underground and automation equipment is installed on save money on maintenance costs from addressing tree degradation. You can visit website here to know more about power restoration.