GREAT FALLS – Whenever there is a power outage on a clear day or night, some people immediately think the cause is a hungry or curious squirrel.

While that’s not always the case, NorthWestern Energy’s annual report on power outages does confirm that squirrels – and other animals – certainly are one of several factors.

Other primary causes include equipment failure, lightning, wind, and snow.

The annual report – titled “Electric Distribution/Transmission Annual Reliability Report” – lists the following as the primary causes of power outages across Montana in 2017:

  • 1 – System – Equipment Failure
  • 2 – System – Scheduled Maintenance
  • 3 – Animal – Other Bird
  • 4 – Animal – Squirrel
  • 5 – Nature – Tree In Line
  • 6 – Nature – Lightning
  • 7 – Nature – Snow/Ice
  • 8 – Nature – Wind
  • 9 – Nature – Limb In Line
  • 10 – Public – Vehicle Hit
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The report lists the following as the primary causes of power outages in the Great Falls region in 2017. One big difference between the state tally and the Great Falls region is that “waterfowl” shows up at #6 for the Great Falls region, but does not appear in the Top 10 for the state. In addition, “squirrel” shows up at #4 for the state, but only ranks #8 in the Great Falls region.

  • 1 – System – Equipment Failure
  • 2 – System – Scheduled Maintenance
  • 3 – Animal – Other Bird
  • 4 – Nature – Lightning
  • 5 – Nature – Wind
  • 6 – Animal – Waterfowl
  • 7 – Nature – Tree In Line
  • 8 – Animal – Squirrel
  • 9 – Unknown
  • 10 – System – Scheduled Construction

Among the most unusual causes of a power outage in 2017 happened when a hawk and a snake got into a scuffle, triggering a power outage and a 40-acre fire along Rainbow Dam Road in August.

Of course, the squirrel problem isn’t limited to Montana. The American Public Power Association reported that in 2016 alone, utilities reported 3,456 outages caused by the “ubiquitous rodents” that cut off power to more than 193,873 customers.

You can view the complete NorthWestern Energy report here.

Reporting by David Sherman for MTN News

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