The Cost of Outages. How Much Damage Can an Animal Cause?

Animal-caused electric outages, like all other outages, can cause direct and consequential damage (such as business interruption) to electric utility facilities, C&I customers, residential utility customers and critical public facilities.

Wildlife Mitigation Feature Image - Blog#2Animal-caused electric outages, like all other outages, can cause direct and consequential damage (such as business interruption) to electric utility facilities, C&I customers, residential utility customers and critical public facilities.

Impact on Electric Utilities and Commercial and Industrial Companies That Own Substations

Electric utilities face a wide range of potential impacts from animal-caused contact outages with a number of variables driving the severity of the outage event from X to Y (see Table below). These variables range from location, animal type, load type, time of day, weather conditions, equipment design and protection schemes. A minor or low-impact event typically is of a very short duration, perhaps caused by an operating recloser or a blown sectionalizing fuse, affecting a limited number of residential customers or limited commercial and/or industrial area.

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Major or high-impact outages have further-reaching impacts affecting multiple stakeholders and can pose significant financial costs to both utility and C&I companies. Consider the damage to substation equipment, utility worker overtime hours to diagnose and repair, and possible fines and lawsuits. These outages can result in major equipment failure — such as reclosers, substation transformers, circuit breakers or powerline equipment, or any combination of electrical equipment. C&I companies may face double the risk because they not only experience a loss in productivity and revenues but also may suffer the same potential equipment damage to their own substation or powerline equipment.

Impact of Animal-Caused Outages to Customers

Outage impacts extend beyond the utility companies. To demonstrate just how damaging outages can be, four outage scenarios, presented in Table 2, provide a range of possibilities to provide context to the outage impact and the span and spectrum of outage types, location and impacted customer numbers. These scenarios demonstrate the variability of an outage event; however, each event presents its unique and lasting impact on the customer, further reflecting the importance of developing a wildlife mitigation plan.

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Impacts Beyond the Typical Customer

Electric outages are particularly troublesome to public service facilities since police and fire departments have to provide assistance to manage areas without power. Police must respond to an increased number of “no power” burglar alarm calls, traffic light outages, calls from members of the public reporting outages and increased instances of crime. Fire departments must monitor critical buildings, respond to false alarms and may be required to support certain facilities that have fire pumps requiring electricity. Water and sewer departments face similar challenges with pumps that experience shutdowns or limited functionality due to reduced power supply from backup power generators.

Critical services, including hospitals, airports and railroads, also experience great risk when the lights go out. While these facilities often have backup power generation, it only supplies a limited number of essential systems for a given period of time. Considering the life-critical services these facilities provide, an electric outage is not just an inconvenience but may become a human-life safety issue. Examples include an outage at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tennessee caused by an animal; squirrels that cut power to a regional airport in Virginia; three outages at the Los Angeles airport; and two outages at NASDAQ’s facility where trading was affected, causing certain economic harm. Had loss of human life occurred due to any of these preventable outages, litigation risk would have very likely increased dramatically, further reflecting the need to act swiftly to reduce this outage cause.

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