AS IF Fredericksburg area residents didn’t have
enough to worry about: The Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which serves parts of Spotsylvania, Stafford, Caroline, Orange and Culpeper counties, says that it is focusing on preventing a major source of power outages that is cutting off electricity to homes and businesses and leaving them in the dark.
According to REC, this source is responsible for at least 1,000 power outages per year, which takes a large toll on the regional economy, and an even larger toll on residents’ peace of mind, as they never know if or when they will be targeted next.
The likely chief culprit in this nightmarish scenario?
Sciurus carolinensis. The Eastern Gray Squirrel, the most common of its kind in Virginia, and its ilk.
Anyone who has ever done battle with these furry terrorists, trying to keep them from eating all the bird seed that’s been meticulously set out at one sitting, knows that squirrels are not only a devious foe, they possess an extraordinary degree of determination and perseverance that puts Ironman triathletes to shame.
Rick Kalinowski, who owns a plumbing business in Bryn Mawr, Pa., is a prime example of the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” school regarding squirrels. Last year during COVID quarantine, he built a tiny picnic table for the squirrels who frequented his yard and stocked it with squirrel-friendly nuts and seeds. After posting a picture of one of his “guests” on Facebook, he got thousands of shares—which inspired him to sell hundreds of cute little squirrel picnic tables on Etsy.
But it’s not so easy for those who refuse to appease these relentless rodents with free handouts. Animal experts say that “if a squirrel is staring at you, it is highly possible that it is judging” you. So don’t let their big eyes, bushy tails and cute chattering fool you. If it weren’t for snakes, foxes, eagles and weasels, their natural predators, squirrels would probably be ruling the entire Animal Kingdom by now.
Thankfully, REC officials do not underestimate them. Although falling trees are still the top cause of power outages in their service area, damage caused by these cunning creatures is not far behind at number two. As Daniel Dewey, REC’s director of operations and construction put it, “the squirrels especially are relentless.”
To combat these assaults and improve electric reliability, Dewey stated that the company’s line crews are in the process of putting up animal guards around transformers and wrapping utility poles in plastic in an attempt to keep squirrels from climbing them.
REC has also developed software to alert them to where these rampaging rodents are causing the most damage. “We take the data and see where the animal-related outages are, and that’s what we focus on,” Dewey pointed out.
All we can say is good luck, REC! You’re going to need it.