Hold on to Your Balloons!

May 10, 2018

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PORTLAND, Ore. — 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 Steve Harkin, 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 2017, Pacific Power recorded 17 instances where balloons caused outages somewhere in the three states the company serves. In 2016, there were 26 such outages, roughly the same number of outages as those caused by lighting.

“While this may not seem like very many events,” Harkin said, “they are preventable. If we can keep customers from being inconvenienced by asking people to be more careful in 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 1-888-221-7070 anytime.