When power goes out, squirrels and birds are the likely culprits

TUPELO – Power outages seem inevitable in bad weather, as has been the case during the region’s recent weeks of rain.
But while wind and rain wreak havoc on the power grid, they’re but minor threats compared to squirrels.
The bushy-tailed creatures and their woodland cohorts cause an estimated 60-90 blackouts annually in Tupelo. That’s 60 percent of all outages, said Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons.
“Squirrels and birds are the two main culprits,” Timmons said. “Then we’ve got raccoons, possums and monkeys.”
Monkeys?
“About 20 years ago there was a guy on Milford who had a pet monkey,” Timmons said. “It got loose and climbed up on a transformer.”
It died, but not before knocking out power to an entire neighborhood.
Animal-incited power outages are common throughout the nation, darkening thousands of households and causing millions of dollars in damage, according to some estimates.
In 2004, Tennessee Valley Authority even did a study called “Rodent-Caused Outage Mitigation on Distribution Systems,” but TVA spokesman Jim Allen downplayed the problem Thursday.
He told the Daily Journal it rarely occurs – at least on the big lines feeding the distributors.
Don’t tell that to Joyner-area resident Leslie Mart. She knows squirrels and other creatures cause trouble, but she said TW&L has done an excellent job curtailing their activity by tree trimming and other means.
“I know that we do experience some,” she said, “but it’s been a year since I was affected.”
In addition to trimming trees away from power lines, TW&L has been “squirrel guarding” its power equipment. This involves putting rubber casings around the bushings that sit atop transformers.
The transformers themselves are safe, and this is where squirrels and other animals go to sit. Bushings also are safe, but the wire that connects the bushing to the rest of the power line courses with 7,200 volts of electricity. It takes only 150 volts to kill a human, Timmons said.
When animals touch it, they’re hit with a blast of power that kills them instantly and shorts out of the power to that transformer.
Most animal-caused outages occur at dawn and dusk when critters usually scavenge for food. Because these aren’t normal working hours for TW&L, work crews get paid overtime to fix the outages.
To save money – and critters – Timmons said the rubber casings are a necessity. They prevent animals from touching the wire and work crews have installed hundreds of them throughout the city.
But it will take years before all of the thousands of municipal transformers receive them.
“One day our goal would be to have every situation mitigated,” Timmons said, “so it would never happen again.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Squirrel damage
Squirrels don’t just trigger power outages, they also cause flickering lights. The animals like to gnaw on the copper neutral wire on the cables connecting transformers to homes and businesses. When they cut through the neutral wire, it causes lights to flicker. If you notice gnawed copper wire on your home’s or business’s cable, call your utility provider. Tupelo Water & Light’s number is (662) 841-6460.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal