Squirrels cause power outages

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, October 2, 2013
West Liberty has faced a series of power outages in the last few months, ranging from a few seconds to an hour long in length.

While the weather and decay can be blamed for some of the failings, the main culprits are much sneakier and more abundant: squirrels.

"Their tails get caught in the high-voltage bushing on the transformers," said WL Electrical Superintendent Ed Tvrs. "They crawl up there because it's warm, and end up hindering electricity flow."

Transformers, which sit on top of the electrical poles throughout town, convert the 7,200 volts of electricity coming from the city into a smaller amount for safe home consumption.

However, squirrels often climb up on top of the units and mess with the flow. They don't often survive the ordeal either.

"They're climbing up trees, jumping from pole to pole. You can cover everything up and they still get in there," added Tvrs.

It's an increasing problem across the country. According to the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, which represents municipal electric, gas, water and broadband utilities statewide, squirrel populations are on the rise.

According to its website, "Some say oak trees are producing more acorns (the major food of squirrels), which in turn leads to more squirrels; but an increase in trees in urbanized areas in general (and many other tree varieties that produce seeds and nuts) also contributes to the big picture."

Squirrels, on the other hand, are naturally curious creatures. They're always chewing, and see no difference between electrical poles and trees.

The greatest number of outages occur in the spring and in the fall in West Liberty, when squirrels are the most active.

Tvrs and the rest of WL's electrical team have begun upgrading squirrel guards on the transformers to help remedy the problem.

The guards block the animals from messing with the high-voltage bushing on top of the transformers. While old guards are already in place, the newer ones should decrease squirrel influence further.

Tvrs is looking to install equipment to cover all secondary lines from the transformers as well.

However, there isn't a complete solution so long as electrical equipment is kept outside. So long as it's outdoors, the elements remain in charge.

On Sept. 7, a pair of squirrels interfered with a mainline feeder from the city's electric plant, knocking power out for an hour all over town around 8 a.m.

Consequently, the breaker box that controls the spare feeder was fried by the incident. While it has since been repaired, some residents have grown tired of the frequent power outages.

One West Liberty resident has threatened to take legal action against the city. He claims the city's grid is unreliable.

The city council discussed his letter during their meeting, Sept. 17, but ultimately concluded nothing could be done to reduce power outage incidents, beyond the actions that WL electric has begun to take.

It seems that as long as there are squirrels, there will be power outages. The struggle between man and nature continues.
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