Mark Kimbell, general manager of the Gallatin Department of Electricity, with one of the plexiglass panels recently added to the base of structures at a substation on Nichols Lane. The move is meant to help prevent raccoons from climbing up the structures and causing an outage.

A new Gallatin Department of Electricity project at its largest substation, which provides power to more than one third of the city, will soon drastically reduce the amount of time customers are in the dark during an outage.

Last week, the department added a new primary transmission line for electricity to the largest substation in the city, according to Mark Kimbell, general manager of the Gallatin Department of Electricity. 

The addition is meant to help increase reliability of the substation, which provides power to approximately 8,000 of the department’s 21,357 customers.

“What this does for us is instead of having one feed to the city substation we now have two,” Kimbell said. “We’re also putting in automated switches here at the city substation within the next month so that if something happens at one substation it will automatically switch it over to the other substation’s feed. Instead of having an hour-long outage, we’re going to be down to maybe 10 to 15 seconds. That’s huge.”

Previously, the city substation located next to the electric department’s headquarters on Jones Street was powered by a substation at the corner of Nichols Lane and Woods Ferry Road near State Route 109. Since the change, it’s now powered by the east substation on Steam Plant Road next to the former R.R. Donnelly plant, with the Nichols Lane substation serving as a backup power supply.

The switch comes after raccoons were able to get inside the Nichols Lane substation and cause three separate power outages between September 2015 and July 2018, according to data from the Gallatin Electric Department. In all, more than half of the city –11,000 total customers – were without power during the outages, which lasted between 45 minutes and two hours.

“When that substation went out… it would also take out the city substation, which serves most of the downtown area,” Kimbell added. “We have to be sure to find what the problem is before we can energize the substation again. It’s a long safety process that we have to go through to turn it all back on.”

In June, plexiglass panels were added to the base of the structures at the substation on Nichols Lane to prevent raccoons from being able to climb up, get electrocuted and cause an outage. There have been 26 raccoons in all that have become trapped and released from the substation since 2016.

Electric department officials are still not sure why the animals are attracted to the substation, which was built in the 1950s and is one of six substations across the city. 

“We have had raccoon problems in the past, but usually they would just climb up a wood pole or something,” Kimbell said. “I’ve never had a situation where we’ve had this much trouble at a substation before and I’ve been doing this for more than 35 years.

“Since adding the plexiglass sheets on the structures, we haven’t had any problems.”

The Gallatin Electric Department had 21,357 total customers as of Sept. 1, according to data provided by the department. It is the fastest growing electric system out of the 154 systems severed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. 

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