Just last week a private contractor began burying about six miles of a Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) electric distribution line in the Squirrel Lake area in the town of Minocqua.
Now the utility is applying to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) for permission to complete a larger number of similar projects elsewhere in the state.
Wednesday WPS applied to the PSC for a Certificate of Authority (CA) for a five-year project to modernize selected segments of its electric distribution system by burying or upgrading lines. If the project is approved, construction would begin in 2014.
The WPS proposal involves electric lines that have the most challenging reliability issues – primarily in rural areas that are heavily forested.
“We’re concerned about the areas where electric reliability is lower than state and national averages. We will target locations in which customers are repeatedly faced with the loss of power due to storms – sometimes for several days,” WPS vice president of energy delivery Vern Peterson, said. “When the project is complete, these customers will see a level of reliability that the rest of the company already receives.”
WPS proposes to address about 200 to 300 miles of electric distribution lines each year beginning in 2014.
“The lead time for actual conversion of the overhead lines is significant,” Peterson said. “For the project to move forward we have to identify landowner support for the project and determine if there are any geographical or environmental obstacles, as well as to begin a preliminary design for the new underground system.” Peterson said another time-consuming aspect of the project is obtaining the necessary easements from landowners to allow WPS to bury the lines.
Not all lines to see work
In the project, WPS will bury and upgrade electric lines that have proven to be poor performers in its system, and where improvements make sense financially. The company is conducting a comprehensive analysis of the electric distribution lines to determine where the improvements will be made. Not all lines in the affected areas will be upgraded. WPS will prioritize the lines to be upgraded or buried based on historical reliability performance data.
“We’re still identifying the worst performing lines in the company,” Peterson said. “Then we add in geography, soil conditions, and other factors that will influence the cost of converting the lines to underground or upgrading. We’re aiming to improve reliability in situations where it can be done at a reasonable cost.”
Peterson said that while still analyzing the WPS system, the company has already selected segments to begin the project in the Minocqua, Eagle River, Rhinelander, Wabeno and Wausaukee areas.
“Obviously, we can’t do the entire areas,” Peterson said. “Landowners that will be affected in 2014 have recently been contacted or are being contacted now.” Additional landowners will be contacted year-by-year as the project moves forward.
After being contacted initially, it could be several months before WPS contacts the property owner again because of the scope of working with 5,000 or more landowners.
In addition to the effort of placing lines underground, WPS is analyzing options to improve reliability in areas where burying the lines is impractical and not cost-effective.
Among the options is Distribution Automation (DA), in which power can be automatically rerouted from adjacent circuits to serve customers experiencing outages. Locations that will be considered include areas where the soil is too rocky to install underground or other areas in which placing conductors underground is not cost-effective.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at email@example.com.