A Wright County, Minn., jury awarded dairy producer Harlan Poppler $750,000 in damages March 19 resulting from stray voltage allegedly caused by Wright Hennepin (WH), the rural electric cooperative serving the area. Wright County is just west of Minneapolis.
The court found the utility 100% at fault for stray voltage on the farm, says Bob Lefebvre, executive director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association. “In addition, the court found that electricity can cause a trespass onto the farm’s property. The concept of trespass eliminates comparative negligence as a part of the fault, and actually makes available the possibility of treble damages for such trespass.”
For its part, WH is still evaluating whether to appeal the case. “One of the concerns the [WH] member expressed was the age of the line, and that this was the cause of the stray voltage,” says Mark Vogt, WH CEO. “A portion of the line serving the farm was originally built in 1947, however an equal portion of the line was constructed after 2006…. The line in question is rated to carry 115 amps. Since all loads on the line add up to only 37 amps at peak, this line has more than sufficient capacity.
“In the case of this member, WH’s measurements of [stray] voltage were below one volt -well within accepted standards for dairy operations.”
“In the end, these arguments were rejected, and the jury awarded the member $750,000. We respect that the jury worked hard to arrive at its decision, and we are evaluating our next steps as a result of it,” says Vogt.
“As an association, the Minnesota Milk Producers Association continues to learn more about the substandard electric grid we have in Minnesota,” say Bob Lefebvre, executive director. “The utility in this case has over 400 miles of sub-standard ‘copperweld’ 8a and 6a wiring. USDA’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) has recommended the removal of all 8a and 6a copperweld wiring and the RUS will provide 100% financing for the upgrades.
”Lastly, Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must be held accountable in making certain utility lines are functioning properly. Today according to sources, the PUC invests absolutely nothing in line inspection to hold utilities accountable,” says Lefebvre.