Stray current solution could cost billions

DRESDEN, Ont. — Rural Ontario is paying the costs for a deteriorating electricity distribution system, says a Conservative MPP.

It’s why Rick Nicholls, who represents the Chatham-Kent-Essex riding, is calling on farm leaders to back his private member’s bill that would set deadlines for electricity distributors to investigate and resolve issues related to stray current, which occurs when low-level voltage passes through the earth to electrically grounded farm equipment and buildings.

Private member’s bills typically have a low likelihood of being passed into law.

Nicholls said some Ontario farm groups, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and Dairy Farmers of Ontario, have not come on side.

“All three major parties over the last 40 years have had an opportunity to do something about this issue and every last one of them refused to do anything.”

Nicholls said it’s a big money issue. On one hand, he said, farmers and rural residents are paying for the costs of stray current in terms of reduced production, animal deaths and human health. On the other hand, the cost of distribution upgrades could run into the billions.

A Conference Board of Canada report from 2011 estimated that a $16.6 billion investment is needed to maintain and replace worn out components of the province’s electricity grid.

Dairy farmers Patrick and Loretta Herbert have been dealing with stray current on their farm near Thamesville, Ont., for years.

They’re frustrated that there hasn’t been more support for Nicholls’ bill among farm leaders. Like Nicholls, they suggested that the lack of response to the stray current problem may be a matter of money.

“The ground rods are leaking electricity,” Patrick Herbert said.

“It’s almost toxic waste to me. They just want to get rid of it off the lines.… They just dump it into the ground, and the farmers have to deal with it.”

A team of Hydro One investigators and other specialists spent a day at the farm last fall, and the Herberts said they were informed by Hydro One that no steps are to be taken to correct the problem.

Calls to the offices of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and energy minister Bob Chiarelli and Dairy Farmers of Ontario were not returned.

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