Landmark Stray Voltage Decision in Minnesota

March 24, 2012 04:16 AM

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.

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Spell Check

3/24/2012 07:07 AM

  this is not unique in Minnesota here in NY the lines servicing my farm were put in in 1945. the only time the utility company will do anything is when something goes wrong. last fall a poll rotted out and fell over on a calm day. still took them 5 hours to fix it. right along the road. the trees have all grown up around the wires. last time the branches were trimmed was 20 years ago.

3/26/2012 05:40 AM

  Stray voltage has been a problem on my farm for 50 years. We had the power company come 3 years ago and they said it was our milk house. We had it all rewired by a licensed electrician. One Sunday night, I went to the barn to start chores. The cows were mooing, kicking, and were whipping their tails. All of them. I ran up and shut the main power of to all the building including our house. Ran back down and they were still going at it for a while longer. They finally started to calm down. That's when we had a guy come in with a hi tech meter and record it. The problem was found. There was still stray voltage that would shock the cows several times a day coming from the pole in front of our barn. It would be as fast as a millisecond. We couldn't pick it up with our hand held meters. The cows didn't breed, didn't produce milk like they should, and were not fun to milk. The power company installed another blocker up on the pole, (now there are 3, only one required). I milked the cows they were calm. I thought I was milking different cows on a different farm. They were so calm. Shortly after we had a week in July with 95 degrees of hot weather. We had 10 cows in heat that week. I breed everyone of them and they all settled. I hope this hell is over, and never happens again. For us or to anyone.


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