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Electrocuted wildlife killing power

Outages caused by small animals are typical this time of year.
20160718 outages ro
Guelph Hydro says brief power blips are mostly likely wildlife related.

Squirrels seem to enjoy performing high-wire acts on the power lines, just as birds love to perch on them. But often the critters get zapped in the process. There are consequences for humans from these electrifying balancing acts.

Sandy Manners, Guelph Hydro director of corporate communications, said the electricity distributor has been receiving an increasing number of calls during the warm season related to short outages. Those power disruptions are the result of wildlife interactions with lines or transformers that go badly for the wildlife. Squirrels are one of the leading causes of outages across North America, and account for about half of outages in Guelph.  

“We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from customers who were curious about what was going on,” Manners said. “They were experiencing frequent, very brief power outages in the mornings.”

There is more at stake these days than there used to be when a glitch in the power supply occurred, she said. In the past, a clock or two would have to be reset, but now there is sophisticated telecommunications equipment that can go off-line when a squirrel, bird or other animals cuts the power. Raccoons, mice, and snakes can also get electrocuted when they come in contact with electrical equipment such as circuit breakers.

“We see this happening at this time of year, every year,” Manners said. “Between June and August is the worst time for squirrels and birds because they are more active at this time of year.”

The power generally reboots and starts to flow again when the animal is no longer in contact with the equipment. But if the animal is dead and remains in contact, the power will stay off. Guelph Hydro crews then have to attend the scene, remove the carcass and repair the damage.

“The frequency is no more than what we normally see, but we think what is driving it is that everybody needs to have electricity all the time now, and when there is a little blip it’s possible that people need to re-set a router. It’s a little bit more inconvenient for people, and we think people are noticing it more.”

Guelph Hydro has taken steps in recent years to reduce the number of wildlife interference related outages, including the installation of longer insulators on power lines, replacing steel equipment with non-conducting fiberglass equipment, and installing wildlife protection covers and insulated wires on all transformers, as well as on lines where there are large trees.

Manners said outages caused by wildlife are a costly proposition. Whenever there is a disruption to the power the cause must be determined. That involves sending a crew out to investigate and remediate the problem.

Guelph Hydro has not undertaken an estimate of the costs associated with wildlife related outages, she added.