Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Questions about the Potential Hazards from Stray Current of HVDC Powerlines (NOT STRAY VOLTAGE)

This last week or two the Department of Energy has been Tweeting about Edison versus Tesla, and  alternating current versus direct current.  It’s been mostly silly stuff, but I guess there are a couple grade school teachers in America who used this for classroom projects.  Like most energy companies, what comes out of the DoE in tweets is silly fluff, but the constant trickle of AC versus DC drivel got me thinking. 

RICL has maintained HVDC powerlines do not emit stray voltage or Electro Magnetic Fields (EMF) and the safety hazards and health concerns associated with stray voltage and EMF are just not there with HVDC.  It’s hard to argue with basic science and this simple logic, so for the last year I’ve stayed away from this issue but I’m starting to understand the hazards associated with HVDC powerlines.  Like most everything that comes from “Clean” Line Energy, the company speaks in half truths about the hazards of HVDC.

Yes, I believe them when they say stray voltage and EMF is not a hazard with HVDC, but the old saying “It’s not the volts, it’s the amps that kills you” more accurately described HVDC powerlines.  The pipeline industry has done a great job documenting this hazard.  HVDC powerlines do not emit stray voltage.  HVDC powerlines do emit stray amperage, or stray current, or in the simplest of terms “static electricity”. 

Think back to grade school science.  Static electricity is when one object has a positive charge and another object has a negative charge.  The two objects get close enough together there is a spark as the positive charge seek a balance.  This is stray current.   The problem the pipeline industry sees with stray current from a HVDC powerline is as it returns to earth, if it finds a nice big steel  tube, the charge will go into the pipeline and cause it to corrode (rust out).  This creates a new series of questions that are not associated with EMF or stray voltage.

1.        What does this static electricity do to corn?  Does it affect the leaves?  Will it “burn” the leaves?  Will it promote vegetation growth and reduce yields?  More importantly, what does this stray current do to the roots.  From what I know about growing corn, the secret to high yields is largely root development.  Deep tillage has become popular, not only to reduce soil compaction but to improve root development with the belief the better root development produces better yield. 

So if stray current from a HVDC powerline affects a pipeline in the ground, what does stray current from a ginormous 3,500 megawatt HVDC powerline do to the root development?  Has any university studied this on a 3,500 megawatt HVDC powerline?

2.       What are the safety hazards of working under a HVDC powerline?

 I have read where the pipeline industry recommends dragging a chain behind pickups to keep the vehicle grounded so a buildup of static electricity does not happen. 

As farmers, Do I need to be concerned when working our fields?  Sure, tillage equipment will be grounded, and diesel powered equipment is probably much less of a hazard. 

What about sprayers that travels through the plants without a ground? 

What about utility vehicles like my John Deere Gator? 

Suppose I am spraying fence lines under the HVDC powerline in my gasoline powered Gator with a Briggs & Stratton gasoline engine in the back driving the spray pump.  It’s mounted on a wood pallet sitting on a rubber bed liner.   I generally keep an extra gallon gas can with me. Should I take precautions against static electrical shock?

This is no joke and no I don’t lie awake at nights thinking this stuff up.  This is exactly how I spray fence lines around the fields.  RICL would be 12,600 acres of easement or 500 miles of farm ground.  How many other farmers spray in a similar manner with an ATV or UTV?

I know of no other existing HVDC powerlines in the United States as large as RICL to comparable hazard. The CU Powerline in Minnesota is much smaller.  The HVDC powerlines in the northeast are smaller.   So how big is this hazard from static electricity that Clean Line Energy has avoided to discuss with farmers? 

With over 500 miles of easement, as a risk assessment,   how long will it take someone somewhere to create a gasoline fire? 

3.       Finally what are the health hazards of stray current from a HVDC powerline of this size for those living near it?  I really don’t care about the hazards of stray voltage or EMF.  This is a HVDC powerline.  If stray current passing through a pipeline or corn roots has an effect, what are the effects on a person?

It’s half-truths for the company to say stray current or EMF are not hazards associated with HVDC.  For the last two years “Clean” Line Energy as avoided the subject of stray current pollution and static electricity.  Not once have I seen the company discuss Stray Current and all it takes is a little Googling to see it exists.  

From what I’ve heard, The closest Clean Line has come to this subject was when a landowner who would be living near RICL was told by HDR Engineering at an Illinois informational meeting that the powerline would make neat crackling noises during a thunderstorm.  That’s static electricity and that’s lame talking points to avoid the real subject.

So if anyone in Iowa sees Hans Detweiler, Beth Conley, or Jimmy Glotfelty, please ask them about these potential hazards.  

Below is a list of links to stray current issues.  Again, most of these are coming from the AC side of electricity and begs the question; How much worse is the stray current problem from a HVDC powerline as it is already documented by the pipeline industry?

Ground Current Plagues Ontario Farms says electrical Expert  December 2012

One more with a quote.  This is what the industry says to white wash the safety hazards of HVDC and static electricity.  Keep in mind this advice is from the industries propaganda in an attempt to mitigate concerns.
Is it safe to drive or park a car or truck near a
transmission line?
...Such induced charges are annoying, but harmless.
If your vehicle tends to develop a mild electrical charge, it
can be grounded by attaching a chain that is long enough to
touch the ground.
There have been no reported cases of fires caused by static
sparks induced by transmission lines. However, the refueling
of vehicles under lines could pose a problem in the unlikely
event that certain conditions (including hot, still weather and
a completely insulated vehicle) existed all at the same time.
As a precaution, never refuel your vehicles directly under a
transmission line. If you have no choice in the matter, use a
plastic gasoline container.

Wow that's some scary advice without giving any scientific data. 

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