“Keeping the lights on” often requires keeping critters out of our substations and grid networks. That’s because animals are behind thousands of outages every year. Did you know that squirrels are the animal most often associated with power outages? Why? Because they use electrical power lines for travel and a place to rest. I’m sure you have seen them scurrying along on your home power line, but when a squirrel climbs onto an electrical transformer, it may cross the bare wire that leads from the high-voltage line to the transformer. This can be bad news for the squirrel and and for you. Birds are also a problem and challenge squirrels as the leading culprit for animal-caused outages across the U.S. Most of the time, these outages are temporary and easily corrected by utility crews and electricians, but the sheer volume and various ways they can occur can sometimes result in longer term power losses, even blackouts or brownouts, that leave our utility professionals scratching their heads. Animals that regularly cause trouble include raccoons, snakes, rats, squirrels, and birds of all kinds.
- Two pelicans in a switchyard for New York City sitting on two separate power sources touched beaks. This resulted in a blackout requiring startup of the “blackout diesel” to startup a gas turbine and supply power to “Big Alice” Steam & Generating Station on 76th Street in New York City for recovery.
- A raccoon entered a substation just outside of Hartford, Connecticut that caused a fire, damaging several key elements of the substation resulting in a two-hour blackout. When a blackout occurs in a city the size of Hartford, it creates havoc, for example the loss of traffic signals – imagine if it occurred at “rush hour”.
- A squirrel entered a Cincinnati, Ohio substation and caused a two-hour loss of power to several businesses downtown and put inmates at the Hamilton County Justice Center in the dark.
- If you are a baseball fan, you are going to love this one. On the evening of June 13, 2019, 15,000 baseball fans sat in the dark, for several hours at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. It seems a bird nest fell into a sensitive area of the electrical substation that supplied power to the stadium along with 12,000 of its neighbors. That was a night to remember for those fans.
- Later that same summer, in August, a snake found its way into a substation in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The resulting loss of power turned off air conditioning – as well as all other electricity – to nearly 10,000 residents and vacationers. That too – a night of sweltering remembrance.
- In Lafayette, Indiana, a power outage was caused by a squirrel in a substation that affected 4,500 customers and greatly inconvenienced “Student Move-In Day” at nearby Purdue University.
- In November, a bird flew into the substation that services San Diego State University. The result was a power outage that caused classes to be cancelled and loss of power to the campus health center, student union, library, and several dormitories. All in all, 24,000 customers were affected by the outage.
So the next time you see a critter crossing a power line, remind them to watch their step!