Growing demands on North American power utilities to avoid power outages caused by contact with wildlife has paid off for a small Edmonton company.

Cantega Technologies Inc. has signed an agreement with Bolingbrook, Ill.-based Salisbury by Honeywell to have the U.S. firm market its protective covers for power substation equipment in the U.S. and Latin America.

Salisbury is a subsidiary of technology and manufacturing giant Honeywell, of Morris Township, N.J.

Cantega president Marty Niles told CBC News the deal is a "tremendous validation" of its Greenjacket technology developed beginning in 2006 with a market opportunity he said is "astronomical."

Honeywell has estimated the market in the U.S. could be worth as much as $26 billion Cdn.

Cantega makes and installs polymer coating shells that fit onto equipment to prevent outages caused by birds and animals coming too close to power equipment.

Honeywell has estimated that power outages cost the U.S. economy $156 billion Cdn every year, with as many as 20 per cent of those caused by bird and animal contacts.

Legal penalties increase

In addition to the cost of lost productivity during power outages, utilities have been criticized for not doing enough to protect wildlife — especially endangered species — from the hazards posed by electrical equipment.

One 2005 study for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggested collisions with power transmission and distribution lines may kill up to 175 million birds annually.

And the penalties are substantial and growing.

A landmark decision in August 1999 against the Moon Lake Electric Association in western Colorado and eastern Utah resulted in $100,000 US in fines and restitution.

U.S. utility executives were given a wakeup call when penalties were introduced after that ruling including corporate fines as high as $500,000 as well as personal fines of as much as $250,000 and jail terms of up to two years.

That message was reinforced in July, 2009, when Oregon-based power utility PacifiCorp agreed to pay $1.4 million US in fines and restitution after 232 eagles were electrocuted in Wyoming over two years on its power lines.

Live installation

Cantega has also come up with its own improvements in tools that allow its covers to be installed on substation equipment while it's live.

"Because of the significant demand on the electrical system today everywhere, and especially in North America, it is becoming increasingly difficult to schedule interruptions to do regular maintenance of the electrical system," Niles said.

Interruptions cost in terms of time, lost revenue and labour. A substation must be taken off the grid and the equipment grounded before work can start, then the installation is done and the substation must be put back onto the system.

Cantega has estimated that doing it live can allow installation to happen 30 per cent faster while using half as many workers.

The marketing alliance with Honeywell is also an example of how regulation can a create market.

Utilities, knowing that court-imposed penalties will be heavier because the technologies to avoid animal-caused outages exists, are being driven toward prevention.

"Some of them are really making a solid effort to limit" the amount of bird and animal kills, Niles said.

"I think in the not-too-distant future it will be only a few utilities that don't have avian protection plans."