A new bill is hoping to address a charged situation in the farming community.
A solution for the deadly stray currents that have long cut their way through local livestock is the focus of a motion from Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls. It received unanimous legislative approval last week.
“Farmers and Ontarians all across the province who have stray current issues will be one step closer to fixing these problems for good,” says Nicholls.
Stray currents occur when electricity diverts from its intended path and enters the ground. In areas with major energy systems, such as transmission towers, the escaped power can be strong enough to shock livestock to death.
The bill creates working groups chaired by Nicholls to study the issue. Plans for the groups include measuring transformer frequencies, determining the source of the currents and seeing which equipment is preferable to negate the problem and organizing workshops to teach people about monitoring currents.
“Farmers and their livestock have been suffering for decades because of the ground current problem in Ontario,” says Dr. Magda Havas from Trent University, one of the experts Nicholls consulted for the bill. He hopes the bill “may finally resolve this decade long problem and bring relief to our farmers and their animals.”
But for one local farmer, he’s heard all of this before.
“Been there, done that, didn’t do no good,” says Patrick Herbert, who operates a dairy farm just outside of Thamesville.
Herbert says he’s been dealing with stray currents since 2008 and has lost about 40 cows to the voltage in that time. The shocks can kill livestock either instantly or over time. In Herbert’s case his cows stop eating and soon pass away.
“You’d call the vet and say oh I got a sick cow,” says Herbert. “’Well, it’s probably going to die, no sense in me coming out to look at it,’” is the response. “Cause they knew it was the stray voltage.”
He’s tried solutions such as installing bin sheets and measuring voltage to gather evidence of the currents. But despite this and visits from politicians and Ontario Hydro to investigate, a fix has been elusive.
Herbert says it’s good that the issue is receiving attention with the new bill. But he’s skeptical that much can be done to deal with the energy company, who he blames primarily for the problem. “You ain’t gonna win with Ontario Hydro. Even the government ain’t gonna win,” he says.
“They gotta rewire all of Ontario and they ain’t gonna do that to solve my problem or many other dairy farmers with the same problem. It just ain’t gonna happen,” says Herbert. He says if Ontario Hydro took the currents seriously “They’d find the problem and then they’d have to fix it and it would cost them. I just gotta put up with their leakage.”
Herbert maintains a cow statue in his front yard to maintain awareness of the problem. When a cow passes from a stray current he tips the statue over. For now, it remains upright.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent