It may seem nuts, but a significant number of electrical outages are caused by squirrels (and to be fair to those cute little rodents, other forms of wildlife as well).
“We have certain equipment we’ve found to be prone to have issues with squirrels,” says Sam McGarrah, Director of System Performance for Liberty’s Central Region. “If you have a bird on a wire, the bird is safe because it’s not touching anything. But if a piece of equipment is energized and able to be bridged by an animal to the ground, they could short that out. We want to protect our system from the animals, but also protect those animals.”
Both of those goals are being achieved through Liberty’s ongoing wildlife cover program. The durable protective coverings are placed over electrical equipment prone to line-to-ground animal contact points.
“Where we put wildlife covers is determined by outage data,” says McGarrah, who has worked for Liberty for nearly 30 years. “We look at historic data to determine where to put these devices. The areas where we find outages have been animal-related we normally find to be residential areas with lots of trees. We’ve also had issues with wildlife at our substations. A couple of years ago, we had a racoon that took out a substation. We also recently had small birds take out another substation.
“As these events occur, we are constantly trying to improve our wildlife coverup to mitigate future outages.”
McGarrah says every area they have installed the protective covers has seen a significant drop in wildlife-related issues.
“We started this program five years ago,” he says. “The first area where we did a full coverup had about a dozen outages the year before. The following year they had only one, and it was because we had missed a location, so we covered that up as well. It prevented (animals) from being an issue there in the future.”
The covers – which are estimated to last for 30 years – are now part of Liberty’s standards for construction. As new lines are built or redone, the covers are installed as well.
“Reliability is a passion of mine,” McGarrah says. “Our goal is to always improve the customer experience. Our customers pay us for a high-quality product, and we’re constantly trying to improve it.”