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Friday, June 27, 2008

Flashing Lights and Perishing Squirrels and Blackbirds

I grew up in a house where my father took trouble calls for an electric utility. Since 1975, I have been employed in the electric utility field myself. So, for, ahem, over fifty years now, I have been closely associated with power systems and the things that make them perform well and the things that cause problems. In all of that time I have never seen anything to compare to the number of momentary power interruptions we have had over the last month caused by squirrels and blackbirds. While it is normal for us to have an interruption cause by a bird, squirrel, or snake fairly regularly; by that I mean perhaps one per week, we have had something over twenty five such interruptions in different parts of Glasgow over the last month.

I don’t know much about the lives, mating habits, and mental attitudes of squirrels and blackbirds, but it is certain that they have been up to something very strange for so many of them to simultaneously contact a grounded surface and an energized conductor over the last month. When they do that, either a power fuse blows and the folks served by that fuse are out of service for an hour or so until we can arrive to replace it, or the flash causes a substation breaker to operate which means a one second power interruption to about 400 homes and businesses. Either way, the offending animal is vaporized and the affected customers are unhappy.

Is this happening because it has been a while since we attacked the whole city with aggressive tree trimming? Is it a phase of the moon? Is it something in the air or water? It is rare that we run into a reliability problem that we cannot propose a solution for. Normally there is a solution that some liberal application of money and/or work will provide. However, this problem is vexing us. We are about to start on the north side of Glasgow with a new, very aggressive, tree trimming program that we hope will put more distance between transformers and squirrels, but none of us are sure that will keep them away. I am reminded of my own efforts to keep them out of my bird feeder and that experience leads me to predict that they will still find a way. How do we convince squirrels and blackbirds to be more careful? If you have any ideas, please let us know.