Duke Energy Indiana wants to spend about $1.9 billion to upgrade its electric grid, a move it says would result in fewer and shorter power outages and would harden the grid against severe weather.
The Plainfield-based utility, the largest electric provider in Indiana, filed plans Tuesday with state regulators, seeking to pass along much of the cost to customers.
If approved by regulators, the plan would increase customer rates an average of about 1% each year from 2024 to 2029, for a 6% increase by the final year. The utility has about 860,000 customers, spread across 69 of Indiana’s 92 counties.
The move comes on the heels of Duke Energy’s $1.4 billion grid upgrade, a seven-year plan approved in 2016. Under that plan, Duke Energy said it upgraded, replaced or repaired more than 31,000 poles, rebuilt or improved more than 1,000 miles of overhead power lines and replaced or restored more than 670 miles of underground cable; improved 420 substations, and installed 37 “self-healing” networks on the electric grid that this year helped avoid more than 31,000 customer power outages.
Now the company wants to install more technology and stronger materials to keep the grid resilient against severe weather and reliable for customers.
“We’re creating a smarter electric grid that helps prevent outages and gets the lights back on sooner when problems do occur,” Stan Pinegar, the utility’s president, said in written remarks.
He said the upgrade would help prepare the grid for future needs, including more electric vehicles and more customers generating their own electricity. The company said the “hardening” would include such measures as upgrading wood poles to steel ones and modernizing substations.
The plan also calls for using new technologies to automatically detect and isolate outages so that fewer customers are affected. The upgrade would increase from 11% to 65% the Duke customer base served by such automatic circuits.
The Office of Utility Consumer Counselor said it will give the utility’s plan “a very close look” and will file testimony based on its review. In 2016, the OUCC played a part in lowering Duke Energy Indiana’s last grid plan by nearly $400 million.
Another consumer group, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, noted the utility is still in the midst of its last grid-modernization plan.
“It’s not clear to us what the difference is between that filing and this one,” said Kerwin Olson, the group’s executive director, in an email to IBJ. “Which begs the question, how much is enough?”
He said he hoped the utility would take advantage of available funds included in the recently passed federal infrastructure law to mitigate the impact on consumers, especially to protect low-income and other vulnerable households from significant rate increases.
Duke Energy Indiana said it estimated the modernization work would generate or support 1,270 Indiana jobs and generate an additional $4.3 million in state and local tax revenue annually.
It expects the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to hand down a decision by next summer.