Smart Birds – Smarter Solution

Birds pose their own set of challenges to electrical substations: they can fly into equipment, their nests can drop debris into sensitive areas or collapse completely, and bird droppings are corrosive health hazards with the capacity to create unwanted connections between components. But as difficult as birds can be, smart birds are worse. Why? An intelligent bird can figure out how deterrent systems work and can adapt its activities to make those systems useless. This was the challenge faced by Puget Sound Energy (PSE), which serves more than 1 million electricity customers and nearly 900,000 natural gas customers across 10 counties in Washington State. The problem? Ravens, one of the most intelligent bird species in North America, took up residence in two of PSE’s Lower Snake River Wind Farm substations within days of the substations becoming operational and thwarted every attempt to make them leave — a problem that persisted for ten years.

Trial and error

Throughout the ravens’ breeding season — February through June — the birds would attempt to build nests in the side bus breaker switches, resulting in debris and sticks positioned to damage equipment or cause an outage. To stay ahead of this issue, staff were assigned to clear out nesting materials like sticks and baling twine every 3 to 4 days. Costs to maintain this schedule of cleaning and maintenance were climbing, and the potential for an outage remained. Every year, PSE would turn to a new method to keep ravens from trying to nest. The company tried seven different deterrents in the Lower Snake River Wind Farm substations, finding that most worked only for a short time, or not at all.

Finding the right solution: The eighth time’s the charm

In 2022, managers from PSE learned about TransGard’s programmable laser system and met with TransGard engineers, who reviewed the two problem substations and made their recommendations. TransGard installed and programmed two Laser Bird Defense units and operated them through the spring, and at the end of the trial period, PSE found no raven nesting materials on any of the switches targeted by the new lasers.

The results revealed that this new deterrent was the answer.

“Our experience with previous deterrents made us concerned that the ravens would get used to the laser pattern,” says Anne Walsh, PSE’s Senior Wind Resource Advisor. “But the random programming capability made it impossible for the ravens to get accustomed to the lasers. They were afraid of the lights and stayed out.” Walsh adds that incorporating the solution was easy and efficient. “The TransGard team was very professional, and worked well with our staff,” she says. “They were always ready to answer questions from my team, and worked quickly to get our deterrents up and running.”

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