Squirrels, other animals responsible for hundreds of Austin power outages a year

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Energy says there are hundreds of animal-related power outages in the city throughout the year. The biggest culprit of these outages are squirrels.

The most recent of these outages happened last week in north Austin near Parmer Lane. Austin Energy officials said almost 4,000 people were impacted when a squirrel came into contact with equipment on a transformer pole.

“Any animal can cause a power outage when one part of the animal is touching a power line and another part is touching another piece of equipment such as the power pole,” Matt Mitchell, a spokesperson with Austin Energy, explained. “The power will move through the animal to the pole in what is called a phase-to-ground power surge, and a power outage occurs.”

Snakes, birds, rats, and other rodents continuously cause outages throughout the year. A Pedernales Electric Cooperative spokesperson said animals cause 10% of unplanned outages every year in its service area.

Squirrels look for warmth in winter

Jill Calcote, an animal rehabilitator at Moonshine Wildlife Rehabilitation, said colder temperatures force animals to find warmth. She added that added development of wildlife area in Austin is driving animals to find shelter closer to humans. This can drive them to electrical equipment.

“It’s not their ideal place to go, just like we don’t want them there either. But they need a place to stay warm, just like anybody else. It’s cold outside and they can’t be out in the elements,” Calcote said.

Winter is also a mating season for squirrels so there are more offspring that need warmth during this time.

Animal prevention tech

Both PEC and Austin Energy say they install animal deterrents on its equipment to try and keep squirrels off lines and around electrical lines.

squirrel guard 2
Austin Energy crew member installs animal deterrent device (Photo Courtesy: Austin Energy)

As shown in the picture above, Austin Energy lineman will install plastic guards around electrical equipment at the top of the pole to prevent animals from coming into contact. Unfortunately, animals will still find a way around the guards.

Tips for homeowners

Even if squirrels stay away from power lines, they can still cause damage to wires in your home. Calcote said squirrels naturally look for things to chew as their teeth grow.

Any holes in your roof or side of your house can be easy access for squirrels to tunnel into your home and start causing damage. Calcote said homeowners need to inspect their home and cover areas that are easy access.

Another tip is to trim your trees away from your roof to make roof access harder for squirrels.

She also said squirrels are sensitive to cinnamon and peppermint scents. If you buy items with those scents and place them around your house, it could repel squirrels away because those scents are offensive to their eyes.

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