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Possums' high-wire acts set power companies off balance


Monday 3 July 2000

Daredevils: Possums and other wildlife account for up to 40 per cent of power failures, costing electricity companies millions. One company, United Energy, estimates it lost almost $6 million over four years to blackouts caused by animals.

Picture: MICHAEL CLAYTON-JONES < a href="">PICTURE Possums and other wildlife are responsible for up to 40 per cent of blackouts in some Melbourne suburbs and are costing electricity companies millions each year, new research has found.

Between 1994 and 1998, United Energy lost $5.7 million due to blackouts caused by wildlife in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

According to Deakin University honors student Emily Seymour, possums were the animals most likely to cause blackout problems, costing United Energy about $90,000 a month. Ravens were the next most troublesome creatures, causing about $28,000 of damage a month.

Eastern Energy is also having wildlife problems. In the Melbourne suburb of Lilydale, blackouts caused by wildlife cost the company $1.1 million over three years in the late 1990s.

Ms Seymour's supervisor, wildlife management lecturer Peter Brown, said electricity companies around the world were reporting increasing amounts of wildlife damage. He said a snake recently cost a United States company $2.5 million in damage to a sub-station.

Mr Brown said there had been a dramatic increase in the number of electrical blackouts caused by possums and other wildlife in Melbourne over the past five years.

He said the increase was most likely connected to the installation of pay TV cables, which gave possums safe access to electricity wires.

"Once you put an unenergised pay TV cable through branches, it means animals can move through the environment without having to face the dangers of cats and dogs on the ground," Mr Brown said.

United Energy spokesman Steve Gosbell said the company had evidence that pay TV cables were allowing possums easy access to power lines.

He said United Energy had had to change its "possum-proofing" methods. It is spending $1.6 million this year on installing protective guards over its electrical equipment and insulated covers around power lines.

Mr Gosbell said possums were attracted to the transformers on power poles because of the warmth they generated.

He said United Energy had found the number of possum-related faults increased when the animals were displaced from their natural habitat - possum problems in Doncaster, for example, are likely to have been caused by work on the Eastern Freeway.

According to Ms Seymour's research, most wildlife-related blackouts occurred in summer.

-- (, July 02, 2000

Answers 2000Jul2.html

try again

-- (, July 02, 2000.

In this country it's squirrels. In Australia it's possums. Tsh! Tsh!

-- Billiver (, July 02, 2000.

Enviornmentally speaking, these little critters have more POWER than we do.

-- ruth angell (, July 02, 2000.

Actually, I think that the terms possums, squirrels, etc. actually are covers for the REAL cause - the dreaded gremlins!(Remember that WWII vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon that they used to run on TV when I was a kid?) I expect we haven't yet reached peak "gremlin" activity.

-- Jeff Coffman (, July 04, 2000.

The saga continues, now with graphic pictures...

Possums find cable television an electrifying experience

NEXT time you hear someone say last night's TV was so bad they lost the will to live, spare a thought for Australia's urban possums. For them, TV really can be fatal. Cable TV lines strung from the poles that carry electric power lines, rather than buried underground, have proved an unexpected threat to wildlife, say researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne.

Emily Seymour and Peter Brown in the university's school of ecology and environment have found that possums are being electrocuted. The problem stems from the cable companies' decision to run their electrically neutral cable TV lines above the electric power lines.

Power companies cut back trees near power poles to stop possums jumping onto the live wires. But the optical fibres used for cable TV lines are safe to climb on and branch off in different directions, giving possums new routes to clamber onto the lines, Brown says.

While the animals are sitting on the cable TV lines they're safe. The danger comes when their prehensile tails grasp nearby power lines, electrocuting them. This not only kills the animal, but often causes a local power cut. "The optical cable enables brushtail possums ready access to power lines, but the lion's share of the outages are caused by the smaller ringtail possum," says Brown.

The researchers have assessed the cost to power companies of these power cuts since the cable lines were first installed in the 1990s. "Since the cable TV rollout, there's been a doubling of wildlife-caused outages," Brown says. "No one considered urban wildlife at all when they decided to run cable TV on power lines." Melbourne power company United Energy, for example, lost A$5.7 million (#2.2 million) between 1994 and 1998 due to wildlife-caused power cuts, most of them thanks to possums. The utility is now insulating its live wires to save money--and possums.

"The ringtail possum might be considered a pest by some members of the public, but we should still be conserving them," says a spokeswoman for the World Wide Fund for Nature.

-- Doris (, July 25, 2000.

Beware hairless creatures.
Long live the Squirrel King.

-- spider (, July 25, 2000.

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