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Johnstown farmer sues National Grid over stray electricity

Johnstown farmer sues National Grid over stray electricity

Lawsuit charges cows' milk production reduced because they're getting shocked
Johnstown farmer sues National Grid over stray electricity
A Saratoga County cow chews feed in this January 2019 file image.
Photographer: John Cropley

JOHNSTOWN — A farmer is suing National Grid, saying stray voltage from the aging power distribution system that serves the farm is decreasing his cows' milk production.

The lawsuit was filed in state Supreme Court for Fulton County late last month by Rick Frasier, owner of Elmvue Farms on state Route 67 in Johnstown.

The lawsuit alleges that farm has suffered "significant damage" including reduced milk production and reproductive problems within the cattle herd. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a court order to direct National Grid to install new equipment that will address the problems.

It alleges that the electrical service to the farm, which operates at 2,800 volts, has produced stray voltage, and said problems that causes have persisted since 2012, despite National Grid saying it has addressed the issue. The lawsuit says that problems could be addressed if National Grid replaced the current service to the farm with "modern and properly designed transformers, transmission lines, connections, neutral insulators and other components."

Stray voltage is the presence of voltage in things that aren't part of the electricity distribution system, as electricity takes a path of least resistence outside the distribution lines where it can. The lawsuit says it is a recognized phenomenon around high-voltage lines, and "since at least the early 1980s, the electrical distribution industry has known that cattle are particularly susceptible to stray voltage."

Elmvue has around 90 cattle at any given time, according to the court filing, with about 60 milking cows. It says the farm has a nationally recognized reputation for Holstein breeding, and also for breeding show cattle.

The stray voltage has effected milk production, according to the lawsuit. "Cattle may experience shocks from stray voltage when eating or drinking from metal equipment," the lawsuit, prepared by the Harris Beach law firm, states. "As a result, cattle may be reluctant to consume normal amounts of food or to drink normal amounts of water."

Amounts of electricity even below 1 volt can effect cattle, according to the lawsuit, because they have soft hoof tissue and low resistance compared to humans, and also are frequently in areas with significant ground moisture.

A National Grid spokesman was unable Friday afternoon to provide a response from the utility to the court filing.

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