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05-10-2000

Clarkson Prof's New Fence System In Use At Rochester Gas & Electric

[A JPEG image of Ortmeyer is available via overnight delivery, e-mail and at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/ortmeyer.jpg.]

Potsdam, N.Y. -- They are little creatures that cause big headaches.

Raccoons, squirrels and chipmunks may be cute and furry, but to an electric power company, they’re nothing but trouble.Thomas H. Ortmeyer

“An animal like a squirrel or raccoon can easily cause $100,000 in damage at a substation,” says Robert Jones of Rochester Gas & Electric’s (RGE) systems planning department.  “Our customers can’t tolerate an interruption due to an animal getting through our fences.”

That may be happening a lot less frequently.

Clarkson University Professor Thomas H. Ortmeyer has built a better mousetrap, so to speak.  At the behest of RGE, the electrical and computer engineering professor has developed a new electric fence specifically designed for animal deterrence.  The fence is similar to a cattle fence but is suitable for use inside an electric substation.

Innovative Fence Systems of Palmyra, N.Y., took the design, made some improvements and now sells it under the TransGard name.  Currently, RGE has installed them at over two-thirds of their outdoor substations in the Rochester area.

The fence uses a low-energy electric fence charger to distribute a mild, non-lethal shock to any animal that attempts to enter.  Made of galvanized steel wire and heavy plastic pipe, the modular components are designed to be powerful enough to deter raccoons, squirrels and other small animals, light enough to set up and reconfigure, and tough enough to withstand the elements.

“This is the outgrowth of an ongoing relationship with RGE that dates back quite a number of years,” says Ortmeyer.  “We were down visiting them about two years ago, and they said, ‘We have a problem with squirrels and raccoons getting into substations.  Are you interested in helping us out?’”

At the time, RGE had expensive permanent fences installed around the exterior substations, which required a high level of maintenance.  “From the evidence we have so far, TransGard seems to be a more reliable fence,” Jones says.

After a January 1998 visit to an RGE substation in Rochester to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a permanent fence installed there, Ortmeyer tested five different designs on Clarkson’s campus. Biology professor Michael Roberts provided insight into the behavior patterns of small animals, such as when they are active and what types of things would attract them.

Ortmeyer conducted 1,000 hours of testing before selecting the final design.  “We then built more than 100-feet of fencing, took it down to RGE, and installed one in November of 1998 at one of their substations,” says Ortmeyer.

Earlier this year, Innovative Fence Systems asked Ortmeyer to conduct further testing of the system in deep snow conditions. He installed a smaller version of the fence and a video camera outside of his office.

Ortmeyer sees benefits in the working relationship between Clarkson and RGE on this project.  “It has us working with industry on real problems and that, eventually, will filter back into the classroom and the courses we teach,” he says.

PHOTO CAPTION: Clarkson University Professor Thomas H. Ortmeyer with the TransGard fence system.  A similar version of the fence is being used by Rochester Gas & Electric at substations throughout the city.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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