Climbing Animals and Substation Outages: Expensive, Damaging.… Preventable

substation TransGard

We read about it almost every day—a critter finds its way into a substation, comes into contact with the wrong equipment, and knocks out power.

With alarming frequency, squirrels, raccoons, snakes and other climbing animals enter substations for warmth, food, security or simply out of curiosity. The result is that power outages have become an increasingly pressing—and expensive—concern.

As utilities, cooperatives and other power providers seek solutions, they have turned increasingly to TransGard fencing. TransGard, currently installed in 2,500 North American substations, is the only substation fencing that delivers a humane—but effective—electric shock that deters climbing animals.

Animal-caused Substation Outages: The Scope and Cost
Climbing animals present one of the greatest threats to substation operation and, in turn, reliability. Consider:
• Wildlife near power equipment is the most common cause of outages at public power utilities, according to the American Public Power Association.
• In 2015, squirrels caused 560 power outages in Montana alone.
• On average, 13,000 people are affected by each animal-caused outage.
• A single substation outage can cost tens of thousands of dollars in equipment cost, man hours and more.

Over the past several years, power providers have become increasingly attuned to the scope of the problem, and some have taken concrete steps toward a solution.

Understanding Animal Instinct: The Key to Prevention
Sources of food, warmth, protection and curiosity will always be appealing to wild animals. As an American Public Power Association representative noted in The Washington Post, “Animals aren’t just smart, they’re persistent.”

Engineers and technicians have attempted to prevent or discourage incursions by using an array of methods: bushing guards, heat shrink tapes and tubing, lights, insulator coatings, decoys—even live trapping.

These measures may have some temporary success, but none prevents the entry of squirrels, raccoons and snakes. Once an animal makes it inside a substation, it will explore and eventually come into contact with something that will create a problem—or a full-fledged outage.

Unlike other deterrents, TransGard works because it completely prevents climbing animals from accessing the substation equipment and deters them from trying again. Squirrels—the species responsible for most substation outages—have a highly developed spatial memory that enables them to remember locations for food, warmth and shelter.

The fencing uses that spatial memory against squirrels, teaching them that a substation is not a hospitable place to visit. Squirrels only need one brief shock from a fence panel to avoid a protected substation in the future.

Engineered for Success
The fences protect more than 2,500 substations operated by major utilities, electric cooperatives, municipalities and other power providers. The patented design delivers an electric shock that deters climbing animals, but there are other reasons the fencing has been so widely adopted:
• Easy installation: A crew of three can complete a TransGard enclosure in just four hours with basic tools—no special training, no heavy equipment.
• No power interruption: Installation of the fence requires zero downtime—substations stay online during installation.
• Modular design: Any panel may be used as a hinged gateway for maintenance access. Substation managers can also easily reconfigure a fence or expand an existing system. Non-electrified entryways provide easy access to substation equipment.
• Less hassle, lower cost: TransGard requires far less material, expense and time than a perimeter fence. The durable PVC and steel construction requires no scheduled maintenance.

These advantages have translated into long-term success at substations in all regions and climates.

TransGard at Work
The experience of two power providers illustrates TransGard’s performance in real world application.

Ameren operates 2,400 substations that serve 2.4 million customers in Missouri and Illinois. The utility, Ameren, determined that 50 percent of its Illinois substations were high risk for damage from squirrels, raccoons, opossums and snakes. After a successful test installation in 2003, Ameren added TransGard protection to more than 200 at-risk substations. The payoff: Ameren has not experienced a single animal-related outage at substations with properly operating TransGard fences.

Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) manages more than 400 substations in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas. WFEC was plagued by years of multiple substation outages from snake incursions. Over time, the costs mounted significantly—a single snake outage, for example, damaged a $300,000 transformer. After WFEC experienced zero outages at a test substation using TransGard snake panels, the cooperative installed TransGard at dozens more substations. TransGard is now standard equipment for all new substation construction at WFEC.

There is a growing awareness among substation operators that climbing animals are more than a nuisance. Every year, animals cause hundreds of substation power outages that leave thousands without power—and cost millions of dollars in repairs. By exploring prevention methods such as TransGard, power providers are beginning to mitigate the problem and reduce the costs associated with animal-caused outages.

For more information about TransGard Systems, visit

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