Balloons capture the imagination with their aspirational upward drift. But their lighter-than-air quality can get out of hand, literally, and have unintended consequences for the power grid
“Balloons may seem like small things,” said Joe Cissna, Pacific Power’s director of safety and training. “But when escaped balloons touch power lines or substations, even the smallest amount of metal content material can conduct electricity. This can interfere with lines, causing power fluctuations and outages.”
In 2019, Pacific Power recorded 22 instances where balloons caused outages somewhere in the three states the company serves. Each year since 2015, balloons caused between 20 and 30 outages, roughly the same number of outages as those caused by lightning.
“While this may not seem like very many events,” Cissna said, “unlike lightning-caused outages, these are preventable. If we can keep customers from being inconvenienced by asking people to be more careful about how they handle balloons, we’ll do it.”
There are steps you can take to help minimize the potential dangers:
- Keep the balloons indoors where they can’t rise into overhead power lines or drift into contact with transformers or substations.
- Make sure the string for each balloon is securely attached and short enough to control its direction.
- Attach a weight to the balloon’s string so it cannot float away, and never intentionally release metallic balloons.
- Deflate balloons after the holiday and keep as a memento or dispose of properly. Birds and squirrels have been known to carry balloon remnants onto lines.
- Never chase a loose balloon across streets or attempt to retrieve a balloon from a power line or substation.
- If you notice a balloon near a power line, do not try to retrieve it. Report it to Pacific Power by calling 1-888-222-7070 anytime.