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Squirrels Driving Utilities Nuts

squirrel-power-outagesPower outages have been a popular topic lately, with concerns about the Super Bowl, recent storms, and freezing temperatures testing the grid’s strength. Utility companies have worked hard to keep everything running smoothly by replacing broken infrastructure, bringing in extra equipment and crews, and taking advantage of demand response. While there are many causes for outages ranging from fallen branches to cable failure, one of the main causes comes in a cute, fuzzy disguise. Yes, the real electricity enemy, or should I say enemies are squirrels.

Believe it or not, squirrels are among the most frequent causes for why our power goes out.  In fact, just this year I have found more than 10 news stories about utilities losing power because a squirrel chewed through electrical wires or went exploring in equipment. It should be mentioned those are just the instances bad enough to be publicly reported, there are far more cases that did not get as much exposure.

Since the beginning of the year, and yes we’re only one month in, 1,400 people in Flower Mound, Texas lost power because a squirrel chewed a circuit line. Two weeks later another 1,131 customers lost power in Denton, Texas from squirrels, and more than 24,000 PG&E customers in Marin County, CA, were affected when a squirrel came in contact with equipment. According to PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno, “Essentially, the squirrel acted as a conductor between isolated pieces of equipment.” These three occasions are just the tip of a lightning bolt for how often our rodent friends gnaw our power away.

Some of the more shocking outages (pun totally intended) include when trading on the NASDAQ market was halted not once, but twice, because squirrels chewed through power lines in 1987 and again in 1994. They have also scurried their way into substation equipment causing transformers to blow up! In June of last year a transformer exploded and started a fire from squirrel interference leaving 10,000 Westar Energy customers without power in Wichita, Kansas. Finally, 3,000 people in Virginia lost power when a squirrel caused a transformer to burst in 2012.

There is some hope to keeping squirrels away from our power lines. In Columbia, MO a company called Critter Guard Inc has two products available- the Line Guard and Pole Guard. These products are placed at the ends of power lines and poles to, “deter squirrels, roof rats and other rodents from gaining access, via the overhead powerlines, to power stations and homes where they inflict costly roof and transformer damages and cause power outages.” There is also a website, Squirrels Ate My Wiring, where people can go and connect with others who have fallen victim to squirrels. Don’t worry; none of the methods cause any injury to the animals, if anything they’re saving them from potential electrocution.

Squirrels in general are pretty harmless, unless you’ve been to a college campus in the Northeast, in which case, you know about the squirrel-on-human attacks. However, despite their furry tails and tendencies to pal up with a moose, they can cause a lot of damage. So next time you look out and see a squirrel scampering across a power line, you might want to go grab a flashlight- your power could soon be going out.

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  • Thom Westergren

    The squirrel threat isn’t limited to the grid. Residential photovoltaic solar installations get their wires gnawed on as well. The lose of power, of course, is limited to as single home, but the expense is still significant. Removal, inspection and repair can cost thousands. Preventive measures can be difficult if solar equipment and roof warranties are taken into consideration. So, commercial solutions to this problem have cropped up as well. We’ve got one that homeowners, installers or solar leasing and financing companies with concerns about squirrels or other varmints (such as pigeons) plaguing their system will want to check out.

  • Melani Erobin

    Squirrel lovers who enjoy attracting squirrels to our yards and feeding them have to use extra precautions to keep our squirrels from doing damage to our houses.

  • Kennez Zell

    With their strong teeth, squirrels can chew through just about any material. Switch to metal garbage cans as well as rodent-proof storage containers to completely protect pet food and trash from squirrels.