What happens when an iguana meets a transformer? Keys utility has a $91,000 solution

In the Florida Keys, invasive iguanas have caused more power outages than one electric company could stand.

Iguana-proofing is here.

Keys Energy Services’ Utility Board recently approved the installation of animal guards on power transformers at all nine of its electrical substations.

The cost: $91,000. It’s going to Greenjacket Inc., a company that makes the fiberglass caps meant to cover transformers to prevent “wildlife caused outages,” perpetrated in other parts by squirrels, snakes, raccoons and birds.

The $91,000 is a one-time payment to buy the hardware. Keys Energy expects to receive it all early next year and have it installed by the summer.

Various species often wander into a substation looking for food or shelter, according to Greenjacket’s website.

Not all are electrocuted. In December 2018, an iguana walked into a Key West substation and somehow set off a 10-minute power outage.

Although it got zapped by 69,000 volts of power, this iguana — unlike others in the past involved in power mishaps — lived to see another day.

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The wildlife protection started as a pilot program with the green guards placed at the Key West substation on Kennedy Drive.

Iguanas caused three outages at that one substation between June 2018 and this past June, according to Keys Energy.

So far, the past four months have been iguana-free for the substation.

“Since the installation, there have been no reported faults at the substation as a result of iguana contact,” said Julio Torrado, the spokesman for the power company, which serves the Lower Keys from the southern end of the Seven Mile Bridge to Key West.

Torrado said staff first identified the guards as a solution to pesky iguanas. The elected Utility Board unanimously approved the contract on Oct. 23.

Greenjackets - Kennedy Drive Before & After.jpg
This photo collage shows the Kennedy Drive electrical substation in Key West before (above) and after (below) the Greenjacket pilot program installation in June 2019. Keys Energy Services

The project’s completion date is next summer.

Keys Energy is playing catch-up with the rest of South Florida.

Florida Power & Light says it uses a variety of animal guards and other deterrents, such as fencing at substations and equipment covers.

FPL also uses Greenjacket products to insulate equipment to prevent wildlife from entering. said spokeswoman Marie Bertot.

“In addition to deterrents, we also make areas more appealing for birds,” Bertot said. “The company provides nesting platforms for osprey in order to avoid their nests being built on power line structures, which could affect customers’ electric service.”

Since 2007, FPL has spent $127 million to construct or retrofit power lines to reduce the risk of bird incidents.

The Keys remain a fragile place for electricity equipment. In April, a sailboat crashed into some power lines, setting off a nearly two-hour-long system-wide power outage.

Crews from the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative, which serves customers from the Monroe/Miami-Dade line to the Seven Mile Bridge, worked to clear the sailboat from the lines for nearly 1.5 hours.

The Co-op doesn’t have the wildlife guards at its substations, but officials have been inspired by Keys Energy’s decision to check them out.

“No, not yet,” CEO Scott Newberry said of the animal guards. “We’re going to be looking into that. We haven’t had any big issues with iguanas in substations.”

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This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.

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Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.