BY ANDREW SMITH, BANNER STAFF
NORTH PERTH- The concerns surrounding industrial wind turbines have included everything from health impacts to air travel, but one issue under the radar is starting to create a buzz.
Stray voltage, or tingle voltage, has been known to the agricultural community for over 30 years, caused by improper grounding of an electrical system that allows low voltage current to travel along a neutral wire. Perth Federation of Agriculture president Brent Royce said most farmers are familiar with the nuisance that can be brought on by any number of changes to a system.
“There probably isn’t a livestock person around here that doesn’t know what stray voltage is or had issues with it,” he said. “I’ve heard of people putting a new phone line in their barn and that causing stray voltage.”
While the issue of stray voltage may not be new, plans for a wind turbine project in North Perth and Perth East have the potential to increase the risk to farmers and their animals, Royce said. The primary area of research on wind turbines has aimed at the impact on human health, but Royce said that animal health is just as important for farming communities such as North Perth.
“It’s not being looked at, and in a livestock-intense area like this it becomes a big issue,” Royce said. “It hasn’t been a real focus where perhaps it should be.”
Royce said stray voltage affects livestock when it travels through a point of contact, whether it be a metal water bowl or wet floor, with effects ranging from mild discomfort to a loss of production in dairy cattle.
“It can cause huge issues for farmers,” he said. “Water and feed consumption go down because as soon as they touch the stuff, they get a shock.”
Dave Colling, electrical consultant with Bio-Ag Consultants and Distributors, is all too familiar with what he calls electrical pollution.
“I don’t call it stray voltage, that’s the wrong word to use,” he said. “Voltage goes where you allow it to flow.”
Colling has been involved with testing electrical pollution in homes within the area of the Ripley wind farm, a 38-turbine project developed by Suncor Energy Products Inc. in Huron-Kinloss Township. Colling said he has seen residents affected by electrical hypersensitivity, developing symptoms of ringing in their ears and headaches. According to Colling, the problems were caused by the substation for the project, as the closest turbine was five miles away from the affected residents.
“It has nothing to do with infrasound or anything else,” Colling said. “It was all electrical.”
The project in North Perth and East Perth is being developed by Invenergy Canada. When reached for comment, James Murphy, director of business development with Invenergy Canada, said that it is a misconception that wind farms are the cause of stray voltage.
“It is, in fact, impossible for us to operate in unbalanced conditions which lead to stray voltage build up,” Murphy wrote in an email to The Banner. “Our protocol takes proactive measures to identify pre-existing stray voltage prior to operation of the project, and for the duration of the lease.”
Colling doesn’t take Murphy or any other wind company at their word, having seen the proof with his own eyes.
“If you do your homework on these wind companies, they’re fly-by-nighters,” he said. “They come in, rape your community and they leave.”
In efforts to correct the problem of electrical pollution, Colling said he has tried many filtering devices but in many cases the residents are forced to leave their homes.
“I have had limited success, usually the families have to leave,” Colling said. “I’ve seen one family in the Enbridge wind farm that have to shut the power off to their house every night to sleep.”
Ted Cowan, energy specialist with Ontario Federation of Agriculture, has a different view on stray voltage. In his experience, the only instance where a wind turbine has caused problems for livestock was when the collector lines from the tower were placed too closely on the same pole as the farm’s service lines, sending a current through the floor of the beef operation.
“It had an extremely adverse effect on the livestock,” Cowan said. “He was forced out of business.”
However, in Cowan’s opinion, the problem was not specific to wind turbines and would have occurred no matter what the electricity was generated from.
“Electricity from a wind turbine is exactly the same from a nuclear generator,” he said. “Sloppy installations of wind turbines could cause serious problems, there’s no question about that. Sloppy installation of any generator can cause problems.”
Locally, the Municipality of North Perth recently passed a resolution seeking more research on how wind turbines could impact the occurrence of stray voltage, and Royce said the Perth Federation of Agriculture is hoping to co-operate with Hydro One to do testing of some sites before wind turbines are operational. Royce said the issue is being monitored closely, as the loss of the agricultural community could have far-reaching consequences if it is ignored.
“We can’t afford to lose the health of our livestock,” he said. “There’s a long list of ramifications if you follow it through.”