Regulators greenlight Consumers Energy plans to bury 10 miles of electric lines in Michigan

Published on March 06, 2024 by Chris Galford

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Consumers Energy won regulatory approval for a $3.7 million pilot program this week that will allow it to underground 10 miles of otherwise overhead power lines over the next year.

This will impact six Michigan counties, as the company seeks to improve electric reliability and reduce outages. Eventually, Consumers plans to bury more of its existing lines, but for now, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) has approved this more modest trial for target circuits in Genesee, Livingston, Allegan, Ottawa, Montcalm, and Iosco counties. The areas targeted have undergone long, frequent outages thanks to the dense tree coverage throughout.

“We can’t control mother nature, but we can control how we prepare for more extreme weather,” Chris Laird, Consumers Energy’s vice president of electric operations, said. “Burying power lines is just one tool we can use in our growing toolbox to prevent outages from impacting our customers. We are committed to delivering more reliable energy for all customers.”

This is not going to become standard practice, though, no matter the outcome. According to Greg Salisbury, Consumers Energy’s vice president of electric distribution engineering, undergrounding can be the best solution for specific areas, but not others. Factors, such as high wind areas or dense vegetation, can make undergrounding more attractive and effective in an area, while other, less natural disaster-prone ones could be better suited to traditional lines.

Presently, underground lines make up approximately 15 percent of all Consumers Energy electric lines, particularly in subdivisions and areas with high population density.

“Burying power lines will help make the grid stronger and more reliable,” Salisbury said. “This pilot will help us learn even more about cost-effective ways to bury lines, allowing us to expand undergrounding projects in the future.”

Consumers – Michigan’s largest energy provider – operates in all 68 of the state’s Lower Peninsula counties. Through undergrounding, it hopes to eventually improve electric service for nearly 2 million homes and businesses therein, as it buries over 1,000 miles of lines over the next five years. This will be subject to regulatory approval, though, and likely, the success of this pilot.