CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Alliant Energy said Wednesday that about a quarter of all power outages they deal with are caused by animals getting caught in transformers, power lines, or power substations. Spokesperson Justin Foss pointed out a squirrel that had been electrocuted at its downtown substation near Quaker.
“It was able to stretch around those plates,” Foss said, pointing out sheathing that protect the power lines. “We call those insulators.”
Foss said Alliant has been beefing up those anti-animal measures.
“One of the things we’ve done here at substations, is to reduce the number of lines overhead coming into it, so that way squirrels have less line to walk across coming into it and into the substation.”
Foss said workers keep equipment clear of nesting birds, which attract other critters.
“If bird nests are in there, not only does that mean birds are in there, but that also means squirrels and raccoons. Raccoons love bird eggs,” Foss explained.
Alliant also uses extra-long insulators, plastic cages to protect connection sites, plastic power line sleeves, even reflective material to divert birds. But sometimes it’s still not enough, as was the case in Manchester earlier this month, when a raccoon managed to reach past the anti-animal measures in a substation there.
“Sometimes you just get a really big raccoon, and in Manchester, that’s what it was. It was a really big raccoon that reached all the way past our animal guards,” Foss told us.
Foss said it’s a constant process to make sure substations and transformers are animal-safe, but when it comes to wildlife and power outages, they share something in common — unpredictability.
“We know that no matter what we do, Mother Nature is finicky. And if Mother Nature wants in, Mother Nature gets in. We understand that, but there are a lot of things we can do to limit that.”