The Drive Toward Zero Animal-Caused Outages

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Is it even possible to suggest that you can drive toward zero animal-caused outages?

Like many Canadian utilities, AltaLink’s experience indicated that nearly 20 percent of all outages were animal-caused.14 AltaLink’s animal-caused outages were specifically derived from bird contact on its low-voltage equipment, a situation that had become a rising trend in the early 2000s.15 Given this situation, and the cost of inaction, AltaLink undertook an animal-caused outage mitigation program that experimented with customized solutions. Its approach included testing a precise-fit electrical equipment cover-up solution that immediately yielded results, especially at certain problematic substation locations.

The positive outcome of the test phase led to the application of electrical equipment cover-up protection at all new substation installations as well as at retrofit sites. The program also included applying the precise-fit cover-up solution to five existing substations per year. By the end of 2013, it had 80 of its 280 substations protected, resulting in dramatic reduction of animal-contact frequency. For a substation that had experienced at least one animal contact outage every two years, the frequency of Wildlife Outages per Station Year dropped from 0.67 to 0.03 after animal-contact protection was in place. This represented a 95 percent frequency reduction that, in turn, became a very real SAIFI improvement of 3 percent and a SAIDI improvement of more than 8 percent. The drive toward zero animal caused outages is possible and is a win for customers, utilities, and the environment alike.

Pre vs. Post Cover-up Installation Outage Frequency – Graph 3


Wildlife-Related Outage Reduction – Graph 4


Recommended Approach

Following the approaches outlined above can serve the needs of all stakeholders by ensuring an aggressive, cost-effective, customer-centric solution. This starts with the utility reviewing its outage reporting for all substation outages. Knowing where the most vulnerable substations exist supports a risk-based investment approach where high-probability, high-impact areas receive investment priority. Over time, implementation can be applied to all areas in order of priority, and risk containment can be accomplished. Having accurate data facilitates discussions with regulators who can subsequently support cost recovery considerations for these capital programs.


There is no doubt that when a major newsworthy outage event occurs on the electric system, customers grow increasingly aware of a recurring problem, which often is the driver behind major changes in approach. A good example of this is the Northeast Blackout of 2003, where 50 million customers within eight U.S. states and one Canadian province experienced electric outages for up to four days, with an estimated total cost between $4 billion and $10 billion. The Blackout cascade started when foliage contacted a power line, later driving new strong rules (NERC Reliability Standard FAC-003-1) and a deliberate response by the industry containing this source of outage. Despite what many previously felt were unavoidable vegetation-caused outages, this mandate has driven the change necessary to remove this doubt — a similar mandate and mindset change can affect animal-caused outages favorably as well.

Regulators should review their reporting requirements and ensure that there are no gaps in reporting across the various voltage classes. If gaps are identified, then best practices should be reviewed and implemented with an eye toward positively reducing animal-contact outages.

It is recommended that good utility practices, along with a collaborative approach between utilities and their regulators, are critical to ensure that a mutual understanding and prioritization of needs are achievable. This includes:

  • Funding for an Animal Protection Plan
  • Access to area-specific animal statistics
  • Support of cost recovery, including animal protection installation (capital) costs

Similarly, utilities stand to benefit by leveraging the information presented herein, evaluating their existing animal protection and mitigation programs for gaps and improvement opportunities, and exploring the latest techniques and technologies that can be installed across their critical systems. This effort to provide the increased reliability utility customers demand, and to reduce operating (outage) costs, results in a certain win-win outcome for all parties.



[1] Mooallem, J. (2014) “Squirrel Power!” Available at: (Accessed: 20 July 2016).

[2] Economic Benefits Of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages. Available at: (Accessed: 2 May 2016).

[3] “U.S. power grid could be knocked out by a handful of substation attacks.” TV-NovostiAutonomousNonprofitOrganization (2016). Available at: (Accessed: 12 August 2016).

[4]  2 Paragraphs (2016) Squirrels – #1 threat to US electrical grid. Available at: (Accessed: 11 July 2016).

[5]  International Energy Agency (2009). Energy Policies of IEA Countries – Canada 2009 Review. Paris: OECD/IEA. ISBN 978-92-64-06043-2.

[6]  Transmission. Available at: (Accessed: 1 August 2016).

[7]  Kemper, C. (2016) “Animal Behavior and Protection at Electric Substations.” Interview with Colin Hassett on 10 March 2016.

[8]  CyberSquirrel1 (2015) CyberSquirel1.Com. Available at: (Accessed: 1 August 2016).

[9]  University of Lincoln, “New research warns world to prepare for power outages.” ScienceDaily,


[10]      Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc. (2005). The Cost of Wildlife-Caused Power Outages to California’s Economy. California Energy Commission, PIER Energy-Related Environmental Research. CEC-500-2005-030.

[11]      Mooallem, J. (2014) Squirrel power! Available at: (Accessed: 13 July 2016).

[12]      Mitigation of Animal-Caused Outages for Distribution Lines and Substations, (1999) EPRI, Palo Alto, Calif. 1999. Report TE-114915.

[13]      DeMontigny, M., & Horn, H. (2012). Guide to Accounting for Utilities and Power Companies. Retrieved September 19, 2016, from

[14]      Heck, N. and Sutherland, T. (2016) Electric Energy Online. Available at: (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

[15]      Heck, N. and Sutherland, T. (2016) Electric Energy Online. Available at: (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

[16]      Heck, N. and Sutherland, T. (2016) Electric Energy Online. Available at: (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

[17]      Heck, N. and Sutherland, T. (2016) Electric Energy Online. Available at: (Accessed: 6 April 2016).

This post is the third in a series of seven excerpts from an electric utility industry white paper prepared by FTI Consulting, entitled, THE CASE FOR ELIMINATING ANIMAL-CAUSED OUTAGES IN ELECTRIC SUBSTATIONS AND ON POWERLINES. The full white paper may be downloaded by clicking here.

Darren Barnett

Darren Barnett

Senior Product Manager Wildlife Mitigation Business Unit
Darren holds a degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from Louisiana Tech University and has over 28 years of experience in the electric power distribution industry. Darren’s career started as a Design Engineer for a major transformer and components manufacturer. From there he advanced to positions of increasing responsibility, including Quality Assurance Manager, Engineering Manager and Vice President of Components Operations. Darren is an active member of IEEE and was on the committee that developed the 1656 -2010 testing guide for wildlife mitigation products.