Each year, TransGard tracks hundreds of substation outages caused by climbing animals and birds to compile our list of the worst outages of the year. 


This year was special in that COVID-19 closures and restrictions made system reliability even more critical than in the past. That made power outages and service interruptions an even more important challenge than ever. 


And, as you’ll see, even though many businesses experienced a slowdown in activity due to social distancing – the animals were hard at work.


Here is TransGard’s list of the Six Worst Outages for 2020 — each involving costly repairs and damaged reputations for utilities and substation operators: 


  1. School’s out in Wisconsin Heights: Seven hundred students in the Wisconsin Heights School District, Wisconsin, were sent home one late-January school day following a substation explosion caused by a squirrel incursion. Students arrived at their school buildings to find that there was no light, no heat, and no means for food preparation. Classes were canceled for the day.
  2. Might as well check your messages: More than 100 signal lights across Grand Rapids, Michigan, went dark on June 30 when a squirrel entered a substation and damaged the equipment.  Impacts on traffic and area businesses lasted for more than an hour.   
  3. Repetition in reptiles: Snakes were the cause of two power outages in April, and one in June at three different substations in northern and central South Carolina, disrupting service to more than 6,000 residents and businesses. The snakes each entered their respective substations and created short circuits by bridging the gap between pieces of equipment.
  4. (Wet) sticks and stones: The city of Kelowna, British Columbia, was without electricity due to an osprey’s decision to drop a pile of wet nesting materials into part of a substation. Residents remained without power while the substation was taken off line, nesting materials removed, and repairs made.
  5. Seat of (no) power: On November 16, Columbia, South Carolina — the state’s capital — was without electricity for hours when a squirrel entered a substation and created a short circuit between sensitive pieces of equipment. Several neighboring communities were also left in the dark.
  6. This weekend flew by: More than 7,500 residents of Sandpoint, Idaho, spent part of their early December weekend without power following an outage caused by a flock of birds which entered a substation in Bonner County, came in contact with sensitive components, and interrupted service.  


This list represents a fraction of all animal-caused outages, many unreported, at substations in every region and climate of North America. While some substation operators take steps to prevent animal incursions, thousands of at-risk substations remain unprotected. 


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