Squirrels messing with Yukon Energy

A single squirrel died and the Yukon's southern electrical grid collapsed. "You're kidding me," said Gordon Clark, echoing the sentiment of many people when told the cause of the 90-minute power outage on Monday.

A single squirrel died and the Yukon’s southern electrical grid collapsed.

“You’re kidding me,” said Gordon Clark, echoing the sentiment of many people when told the cause of the 90-minute power outage on Monday.

“How can a squirrel wipe out the whole Yukon?” said Clark, who owns Boston Pizza. “I grew up in Ontario. Squirrels didn’t destroy our grid in Ontario. It’s just ridiculous.”

Apparently, Yukon squirrels are far more tenacious.

The problem occurred at the Whitehorse Rapids substation, a major hub for Yukon Energy.

All the power generated by its Whitehorse plants flows through this point.

The substation is enclosed by a chain link fence, and lined with a wooden squirrel guard to keep rodents out.

“But this squirrel was persistent,” said Yukon Energy Corporation spokesperson Janet Patterson.

“It chewed through the wood, chewed through the insulation and it got in.”

Once inside, the squirrel ended up standing where it shouldn’t have, receiving a 2,400-amp jolt that blew out the entire southern and central grid.

For all those who doubt the official explanation, the News received a photo of the dead animal, but Yukon Energy wouldn’t permit it to be published.

“It’s a pretty charred squirrel,” said Patterson. “I don’t think it’s something the public wants to see.”

As ridiculous as it sounds, these frequent power outages have serious consequences for Yukon businesses.

“I’d say it cost us at least $1,500 in sales, easy,” said Clark.

On Monday, a group of 30 to 40 government workers had booked lunch at Clark’s restaurant.

All the meals were made in advance and, just as staff were about to put the food into the oven, the power went out.

The food was wasted and Boston Pizza missed out on the sales – on top of the sales from the normal lunchtime rush.

“And not only do you lose business, but for a lot of people it fries their electronics,” said Clark.

“So they have thousands of dollars of repairs to do on top of the thousands of dollars due to loss of sales. If you add up the disruption in Whitehorse as a whole, it must be several hundred thousand dollars.”

Staples didn’t lose thousands of dollars on Monday, but that was because they were using surge protectors to shield their electronics, according to general manager Chris Nagy.

“They did their job, but they got toasted during the power outage.”

It took the office supply store an additional hour, after the power came back on, to get new surge protectors in place and reopen the store.

The destroyed surge protectors probably cost a couple hundred dollars, said Nagy.

“But when it comes to sales, it didn’t cost us a thing.”

The outage might actually bring in sales for Staples, from all those who lost equipment during the outage and want to protect their electronics with their own surge protectors.

“Right now I haven’t seen much of a difference,” Nagy said yesterday.

“But it usually takes a day or two for people to get organized.”

This is the third power outage this year, and not the first time that a renegade squirrel has been the cause.

Ravens have also proved troublesome for the Yukon grid.

Yukon Energy is now looking at what more it can do to prevent animals from getting into its substations and affecting the grid, said Patterson.

But it’s too little, too late for many business owners, like Clark.

“As far as I’m concerned our power grid is like that of a Third World country.”

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com

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