With a continued focus on strengthening Michigan’s electric grid and reducing outages, we are exploring the option of burying our electric lines through an undergrounding pilot program.

The aim of the pilot program, pending approval by the Michigan Public Service Commission, is to understand the best and most cost-effective way to bury lines. It will study real-world improvements that result from burying power lines, and how those improvements compare with other approaches to improving electric service for nearly 2 million Michigan homes and businesses.

Based on results from other states and energy providers that have moved overhead lines underground, we estimate we can improve resiliency 90 percent along circuits with buried lines.

Currently, about 15 percent of our electric lines are underground. Many of these underground locations are in subdivisions and areas with high population density. 

Reducing Outages

Since overhead lines are at far greater risk of outage than underground, burying electric lines in areas with trees will provide improved reliability and help minimize future forestry clearing costs, in addition to less lineworker resources.

“We know burying power lines will help make the grid stronger, especially during violent storms that are hitting Michigan more frequently,” said Greg Salisbury,?vice president of electric distribution engineering.Historicallythe costs to bury lines have been too expensive, but we have driven down the cost per mile to be equivalent to above-ground costs. This pilot will help us learn even more about how to bury lines in ways that keep costs as low as possible, allowing us to bury additional lines in the future.”

Buried Lines Improve Safety

Buried power lines are protected from lightning, high winds, tornadoes, heavy snow, ice and falling tree limbs, one of the most common reasons for outages. Buried lines also improve public safety by reducing or eliminating downed wire electrocutions, fire hazards, vehicle collisions and falling poles.

“We can’t control the weather, but we can control how we prepare for more extreme storms,” said Chris Laird, vice president of election operations. “Burying 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, resilient energy for every customer.”  

Undergrounding is one of several tactics we are employing to improve electric service for customers. Our overall $5.4 billion electric reliability plan is a blueprint for serving Michigan today while investing and innovating to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Investments are also being made to install new technology and automation, trim trees, replace aging equipment and upgrade key equipment such as substations. These investments are even more important with climate change causing more frequent and severe weather events, continuing to have a devastating effect on the communities we serve.

We are making these strategic decisions as part of our Clean Energy Plan.  And we know our number one job is to keep the lights on for customers. We are committed to delivering reliable, clean, and affordable energy to our customers 24/7.  

Our pilot program will target circuits in Genesee, Livingston, Allegan, Ottawa, Montcalm, and Iosco counties. These areas experience frequent, lengthy outages and feature dense trees, which often cause outages.

In the future, we plan to underground about 400 miles of line annually.

“It is important to remember burying our lines might be the right solution for some areas but not others,” Salisbury said. “We will use a strategic approach and do it in the most cost-effective way for our customers. And by using a few different strategies to strengthen the grid, we will be able to deliver a brighter future for all the communities we serve.”