Animal Incursions at Electrical Substations

The multi-million dollar challenge of keeping animals at bay- and the lights on

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The multi-million dollar challenge of keeping animals at bay- and the lights on

By Bill Reichard

In October 2011, more than 50 large cats, wolves and other wild animals were released from a wildlife preserve in Muskingum County, Ohio. Many of us remember reading about local officials engaged in the massive response. The incident was unfortunate, but it was also an anomaly that resulted in little damage or harm to innocent people.

Contrast that event with the reality that, from June through October of 2011, at least 15,000 residences and businesses across Ohio were rendered powerless by animal incursions into electrical substations. Substation outages knocked out traffic signals, forced emergency teams into action and resulted in significant, unplanned repair expenses for utilities.

These occurrences were not anomalies. Every week, communities across the U.S. experience power outages when squirrels, raccoons, snakes, cats and other animals enter electrical substations in search of food or warmth. Utilities, cooperatives and other energy providers employ several methods to control the problem, including one-a specialized substation fence developed by TransGard Systems-that delivers a mild electric shock to climbing animals.

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An Expensive Problem

The cost of animal related outages in the entire U.S. was just under $15 billion in 2009. The effects of animal incursions into substations might range from a simple trip of the electrical system to a power interruption that lasts for hours. Damage to substation equipment ranges from chewed bushings and insulators, a relatively low-cost repair, to a destroyed transformer, which can costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair or replace.

Transgard Systems customers report that substation outage costs-for equipment, man-hours and related expenses-can run $20,000 per occurrence or higher, depending on the damage. Problem substations might experience multiple outages every year, compounding the expense. And, with more substations employing sophisticated automation equipment, repair costs have risen.

In addition to the financial strain outages place on utilities, they can also result in lost revenue for business customers, damage to infrastructure, costs related to emergency crews and first responders, and other expenses beyond substation repair. Last but not least, substation outages can lead customers to doubt the reliability of their power supplier.

Animals on a Mission

According to The Journal of Wildlife Management, animals enter electrical substations for a variety of reasons. Squirrels often enter substations in search of shelter. Cats and snakes seek the eggs and young of the birds that nest in electrical substations. Raccoons might enter substations out of sheer curiosity.

Substations located near areas of higher animal activity are obviously prone to more incursions. A study published by Wildlife Society Bulletin found that increased residential and business developments have pushed animal habitats toward substations that were initially placed in areas with scarce animal activity. The shrinking animal habitat, a phenomenon that continues to accelerate, increases the likelihood of substation incursion by animals.

Besides the predicable squirrel and raccoon culprits, other, less-typical animals are also responsible for disrupting substations in different regions of the country, including marmots in Colorado and Cuban tree frogs in Florida. Snakes represent one of the fastest-growing causes of animal-caused outages, particularly for power providers in the south and southwestern U.S.

Utility managers have worked to devise all manner of applications to keep climbing animals away from their equipment: specialized bushing guards, heat shrink tapes, tubing-even low-tech approaches such as greasing poles or placing predator decoys at a substation's perimeter. But, as anyone with a birdfeeder can attest, an animal will pursue a goal for as long as it takes to achieve it.

Creating a Solution to Protect Residents-and Animals

While substation operators have tried multiple solutions to deter climbing animals, most prove only partially effective in the field.

In 1990, Rochester Gas & Electric (RGE) was experiencing significant problems with outages caused by animals entering substations. Animal-related damage was causing 20 percent of all RGE's substation outages, second only to weather as a cause. Animal incursion had become a significant expense for RGE, which operated more than 100 substations and provided electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers in upstate New York.

RGE consulted with TransGard Systems, the inventor of a patented fencing system designed to prevent animal incursion at substations. TransGard's fence systems delivered a humane shock to any animal attempting to climb the fence, preventing entry and discouraging return visits.

In the years since its initial installation, RGE has installed TransGard fencing on all of its 165 substations and has experienced just one animal-caused outage over the past 12 years. Since those early installations at RGE, TransGard has provided protection from animal incursions to more than 2,000 North American substations-working with utilities, cooperatives and other substation operators of all sizes.

TransGard attributes its long-term success to the effectiveness of the system and to critical advantages built into its system. The fence offers a simple modular design, making it easy to install in half a day. The system requires no power interruption during installation and becomes operational immediately. Finally, a TransGard fence costs far less than a standard perimeter fence, and, in most cases, the cost of an installation can be recouped with the prevention of a single outage.

TransGard continues to develop enhanced offerings for utilities. The company developed a special panel to prevent snake incursions-a response to a growing number of snake-caused outages reported during the past few years. The company's snake panels prevents incursion from snakes as small as 0.25-inch in diameter.

With human activity reducing the size of animal habitats and utilities adding new substations every year, animal incursion will continue to represent a costly challenge. By exploring cost-effective deterrents that have a proven track record in the field, substation operators can mitigate the expense of animal substation outages-and the inconvenience they cause customers.


About the author: Bill Reichard is general manager for TransGard Systems Inc.For more information about TransGard Systems, visit www.transgardfencing.com.

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