Augusta's trees mean more squirrels, more power outages

Augusta’s abundance of trees – and tree squirrels – helped earn the Garden City a higher-than-normal share of power outages, according to Georgia Power Co.

Statewide, the utility handles an average of 10,894 squirrel-related outages a year, mostly caused when the rodents venture too close to high voltage lines at a substation or on a neighborhood transformer.

Squirrels account for 6.4 percent of all outage events statewide but represent less than 1 percent of customer minutes without power, said John B. Kraft, a spokesman for the utility.

The Augusta area, he said, yields slightly higher numbers, with squirrels causing 7.6 percent of the total outages – and about 1 percent of customer minutes in the dark.

“There are so many squirrels, and so many opportunities,” he said, noting also that squirrel outages are usually short, while events caused by widespread tree damage from storms can last much longer.

The most common squirrel incidents involve transformers, he said.

“A squirrel will get to a point of touching the wrong parts and that’s when the fuse will blow,” he said. “You’re losing a handful of customers, maybe, and typically the transformer isn’t destroyed, but the fuse blows. It’s a protective device.”

Although the number of squirrel-induced outages seems high, it has been higher in the past, spiking at almost 17,000 incidents statewide in 2006.

Ongoing efforts to thwart the ability of rodents to sabotage utility lines have helped, Kraft said.

“We use a number of different things,” he said. “In the ’80s, a Georgia Power employee developed and patented a squirrel guard we now use at our substations.”

Various squirrel guards and exclusion devices are also used, he said.

“There is a factory-installed transformer bushing connector guard that shields electrified parts,” he said. “There is also a device, made by 3M, that delivers a warning jolt that deters the squirrel from coming closer to the equipment.”

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