Hydro One testing farms for signs of stray voltage
Few people have known about the dangers of stray voltage for longer than Lee Montgomery.
In the 1970s, Montgomery’s Chatham-area farm was full of prized cattle.
As the decade progressed and the awards rolled in, Montgomery noticed some unusual behaviours emerging in his herd.
“They wouldn’t milk; they wouldn’t eat; they wouldn’t drink,” he said in an interview.
“They had deformed calves. I even had calves born without hair on them.”
By 1980, Montgomery was concerned enough that he started looking into stray voltage – well before it was a recognized issue.
Claiming that stray electricity was flowing off the power grid and under his farm, killing his animals in the process, Montgomery sued the province.
It took several years, but the case was ultimately settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Another lawsuit was launched against the province in 2010, but a judge sided with the government in that case.
Bound by a non-disclosure agreement, Montgomery is to this day unable to discuss many elements of his settlement.
However, the agreement doesn’t stop him from talking about the issue of stray voltage. On that score, he’s become one of Ontario’s most outspoken critics of the practice.
“If they’d have paid attention to me 40 years ago, they’d have had this thing fixed (by) today,” he said.
Two years after settling with the province, Montgomery lost something even more dear to him than his cattle – and again, he believes stray voltage was a major contributing factor.
His wife had begun displaying similar symptoms to the animals – weight gain and then rheumatoid arthritis, before finally being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.
“When the liver (issue came) along, that proved it to me,” he said.
For decades, Montgomery has advocated for new legislation dealing with stray voltage.
A bill that would address the issue was introduced at Queen’s Park in 2006, but died when an election was called and has never been brought back.
Chatham-Kent-Essex MPP Rick Nicholls says he wants to introduce an updated version of that legislation at some point.
In the meantime, Hydro One is looking into the issue on its own.
It’s running a pilot program on three farms, and provincial officials say they’ll be watching out for the agency’s findings.
“We’re going to identify, assess and mitigate instances of stray voltage,” Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal said in an interview, calling it “a very serious problem.”
Results from the pilot project are expected to be passed on to the government by the end of 2015.