What do cameras, lasers, and the smell of artificial grape juice have in common? They are all safe, new features that regional birds will have to contend with if they try to establish a home within PRECorp power substations. This is part of the ongoing corporate citizenship and environmental stewardship that is ingrained in the cooperative’s Avian Protection Plan (APP).
The implementation of the APP has statistically proven to have reduced bird-related mortalities over time and improved the reliability of the PRECorp system by reducing outages related to wildlife. PRECorp annually updates its APP with a status report and voluntarily shares its strategies to continuously improve performance with regulators
Lasers and grape juice?
One strategy being evaluated in 2023 is the targeting of known problem areas with uncommon types of deterrents. PRECorp Engineering and Operations teams are working together to complete two pilot projects for safely discouraging birds at the Gap and Bonepile Substations.
“Both substations have had numerous wildlife outages over the years that have been mitigated with coverup materials, which have seen potential tracking and fit concerns since installation was completed six to seven years ago,” said PRECorp VP of Engineering Quentin Rogers. “The birds themselves haven’t been the cause of all the issues within these stations, but they also are a food source for prey animals, which has resulted in outages.”
The solutions being explored include:
Lasers installed at Bonepile Substation operate during daylight conditions in patterns that are intended to annoy birds so that they do not want to remain or nest in the area.
A scented chemical that supposedly annoys birds (the same as is used in artificial grape flavors) is being deployed at Gap Substation.
Low-cost cameras are being installed at both substations. They are pointed at equipment to monitor the effectiveness of the lasers and grape scent.
PRECorp’s Engineering team will evaluate the effectiveness of these solutions over the next 12 to 18 months before making a recommendation on whether to adopt these technologies as approved avian mitigation options to be used as needed in the electrical system.
PRECorp’s electrical distribution system features thousands of miles of overhead power lines and power poles spread across northeast Wyoming. The poles and their adjoining cross-arms, switches, and insulators offer an inviting perch or nesting area for many species of birds. Lines can also pose collision hazards for some birds in flight.
The APP has been a part of PRECorp’s operating procedures since 2005. PRECorp has updated the plan multiple times to ensure it aligns with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), and PRECorp’s power delivery technology and systems.
The cooperative began collecting and reporting on avian incidents prior to the adoption of PRECorp’s first APP, almost 20 years ago. By analyzing the data collected, PRECorp has learned which structure types pose the greatest risk to our avian friends, which has allowed PRECorp to focus our efforts on retrofitting select structure types in an attempt to make them avian safe.
In 2022, the overall avian and eagle mortalities were at a record low for PRECorp. This success is occurring when federal agencies are reporting high levels of eagle populations, Rogers said. PRECorp reported 15 bird-related outage incidents in 2022 averaging about an hour and 20 minutes each. These are major reductions compared to 2021, when 28 incidents were reported averaging about two hours each.
Over the years, PRECorp has undertaken specific measures to reduce bird injury and deaths, as well as associated power outages.
Incidents are not just birds landing on or colliding with energized equipment. Some of the outages are nest fires, with no bird mortalities at all. Instead, the empty nests touched energized equipment starting the nest on fire, destroying the nest and the power equipment on the pole.
Installation of protective covers, and increasing the distances between transformers, lines, and other energized device areas has helped the cooperative bring down bird mortalities and outage minutes by as much as 80 percent. Although PRECorp goes to great lengths to avoid occasions of bird deaths, electrocutions still occur. The majority of incidents involve owls and non-raptor birds. Some eagles and hawks have wingspans that stretch over six feet, putting them in danger of electrocution by touching energized lines. About one-third of the incidents involve hawks or eagles.
What you can do
Although PRECorp employees have the greatest probability of noticing bird threats, PRECorp members, wildlife officials, and partner agencies also play a large role in reporting general hazards.
People who discover a bird carcass, injured bird(s), or nests atop PRECorp power lines, should call 1-800-442-3630. Please do your best to have a location and any identifying numbers from a nearby pole. Callers will also be asked for their contact information and any photos of the scene would also assist in the response.
Reporting is the most important part of the APP. The quicker PRECorp is notified, the quicker the cooperative and its partner agencies can respond and assess the situation. This reduces mortalities and lessens the chances for outages and potential fires.
PRECorp partners with the USFWS, WGFD and other involved agencies to investigate certain bird mortalities. Some of our investigations are very lengthy and detailed to determine what the bird was trying to do at the time of the incident; to re-create where and how the contact was made; and, to learn how to better protect from future incidents happening.
Data is logged, mitigation devices are often installed, and a record is kept regarding the incidents. The data helps in determining the cause of the incidents which assists in driving improvements to the overall APP. All new power line construction is designed with adequate spacing to reduce the chances of incidents occurring.
PRECorp will continue to retrofit existing structures to reduce overall impact to wildlife in conjunction with its system maintenance plan. Specially designed structures may also be installed near prior incident sites where they are needed as a follow-up to special mortality cases. These structures can include nesting platforms located near problem poles. Under USFWS and WGFD guidance, PRECorp has successfully moved many nests to safe platforms since 2005.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding PRECorp’s Avian Protection Program should call 1-800-442-3630 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .