September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Stray voltage – or more correctly, stray current – is an issue that has long plagued the animal agriculture industry. On May 11, 2011, those affected by stray voltage gathered to tell the House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance Committee committee their stories during an informational hearing regarding House File 1157 (HF1157), a bill introduced by Rep. Bruce Anderson (R-19A).
HF1157 would require a Stray Voltage Advisory Task Force be appointed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission as of July 1, 2011. As the legislation is written now, the task force would be comprised of 16 people, including two dairy producers, an electrical engineer and representatives of several energy and agriculture-related organizations. The appointed task force would address the creation of a uniform stray voltage complaint form, the creation of a comprehensive definition of stray voltage, a protocol for on-site stray voltage investigation, remediation of the conditions causing stray voltage and who will pay for remediation.
“The solution to electrical pollution is to get electricity out of the ground, meaning that no grounding of electrical infrastructure to the ground will help in mitigating the situation on farms or places where human beings have been unduly harmed by this issue,” Anderson said during his introduction, quoting Duane Dahlberg, a professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.
Waverly, Minn., dairy producer Harlan Poppler began the supporting testimony. He and his family have been dealing with stray voltage since 2006, which has caused numerous animal health issues – including death – even after rewiring the farm.
“I have a wife and four children at home, and we are putting cows down in front of them. These are animals I’m in care of, and I’m having to shoot them because of what is being caused by stray voltage,” Poppler said.
Poppler showed a video of a cow being milked in his parlor. The unit was attached and no one was around the cow, yet she suddenly jumped back as if shocked.
“This is what I deal with on a daily basis,” Poppler said. “... How would you feel if this was your livelihood being destroyed in front of you because nobody wants to do research and find out what’s actually going on with these cows nowadays rather than what was going on with them 20 years ago?”
Poppler’s testimony was followed by several others, who gave similar stories regarding the effects of stray voltage on their farms, their livelihoods and their own health. A couple testifiers spoke of having to sell their cows as a result of stray voltage problems. Those included Lois Thielen and her husband, John Kuntsleben, who dairied north of Grey Eagle, Minn., for 23 years until they sold their 95-cow dairy herd recently. Their stray voltage problems began in 2000, when two neighboring dairy farms quit milking. Their herd health problems suddenly escalated; SCC skyrocketed and production plummeted, among other things. Similar to Poppler’s situation, Thielen and Kuntsleben took several preventative measures in an effort to control the stray voltage surging through their barn.
“The biggest problem was no matter what we did – what nutritionist we talked to, how many veterinarians we consulted, no matter how much work we had done with that wiring – it never got the cow’s milk production up to where it should be,” Thielen said. “We … have lost a lot of money because we couldn’t get the cows to produce …”
“I would like to see something done so that power companies have some rules to follow so they can’t just continue to do whatever they want and dump their stray voltage in the back yard,” she said. “There’s nothing in place to regulate power companies.”
“We can protect ourselves from what is coming through the line, but we can not do anything with the ground current on our farm; the power company has to do that, and so far they have refused to do anything,” Kuntsleben said.
“Mentally, this has been really hard,” said Carver County dairy producer, Larry Dreier, who has been battling stray voltage problems for three years. “I’ve had to deal with depression issues, and my family’s health ... we’ve all had minor issues. I do hope we can get to this end very soon.”
Opposing testimony included comments from Dr. Doug Reinemann, professor at the University of Wisconsin; Chuck DeNardo, chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) working group on stray and contact voltage; and Tim Weir, Stearns Electric Cooperative in Melrose, Minn.
“Earth current is a well-understood electrical phenomenon. If present on a farm at levels known to be problematic, a standard stray voltage measurement will find it, and a few simple diagnostic measures will allow the investigator to identify its source. A special or unique earth current investigation protocol is not necessary,” DeNardo said.
Weir gave examples of how Stearns Electric, which services between 800 and 1,000 dairy farms, handles stray voltage situations. It starts with a phone call from a producer.
“A lot of [farmers] recognize that stray voltage is just one piece of the pie when it comes to the dairy,” Weir said. “… A lot of them just want to know if they can rule out stray voltage.”
Once the concern is heard, a stray voltage test is scheduled and an investigator meets with the farmer – who remains actively involved through the entire process. The results are reviewed and recommendations are made – options to reduce stray voltage.
“It’s a pretty standard practice,” Weir said. “… We try to do our best for our farmers.”
“I am very concerned about this,” Anderson said in his closing remarks. “We have a problem that affects a lot of farmers … I will continue to pursue this as much as possible.”[[In-content Ad]]
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