Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), a subsidiary of Integrys Energy Group, Inc. received approval from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for a 5-year, $220 million System Modernization and Reliability Project (SMRP) to convert more than 1,000 mi of overhead electric distribution lines to underground. WPS will also install distribution automation equipment on an additional 400 miles of line.

WPS successfully completed a small pilot reliability improvement project in 2012 and used data collected there in developing the larger project. SMRP construction will begin in 2014. The company has already identified the electric line segments it will work on in 2014 and 2015. That information is available at: the company's website.

While WPS electric reliability is typically very good, overhead lines in the heavily-forested rural areas in northern Wisconsin are more susceptible to weather-related events. WPS has heard high levels of concern about the number and duration of outages from customers in these areas. Overhead line segments were selected for the project where the conversion to underground can be done at reasonable cost.

"In the affected areas, electric reliability is significantly lower than state and national averages. The areas we will target are those in which customers are repeatedly faced with the loss of power due to storms - sometimes for several days," said WPS Vice President of Energy Delivery Vern Peterson. "When SMRP is complete, these customers will see a level of reliability closer to levels that customers in the rest of the company’s service territory already experience."

WPS conducted an analysis of its larger electric distribution lines throughout its service area in determining the project scope. The company weighed the costs and benefits of upgrading its lower performing lines and determined a price point at which the upgrades make financial sense and will result in the greatest reliability improvement for customers.

The SMRP rate impact could amount to less than $5 per month for a typical residential customer by the project's end. WPS will contact the residents along the construction route to inform them when the company begins working in their area.