BEYOND THE RANCH GATE- ‘Dirty’ Electricity

By Blaine Davis Contributing Editor

Having just returned from another pilgrimage to the “Third Coast,” my travels were once again confronted by those “dirty” windmill blades in transit. I jest with the term “dirty” and could easily substitute an expletive or two. In west Texas, south of the famed 6666 Ranch, Highways 83 and 380 intersect in what looks more like a fishing hook with a change in direction exceeding 135 degrees. To my consternation and many more fellow travelers, this convoy of three “dirty” blade haulers was attempting to circumvent this angle utilizing all the real estate save the bottom of the road ditches. After a 25-minute blockade to witness their gyrations, two of the three had cleared the intersection and we were back on our way not caring if the third made it.

I have long berated this alternative energy source to the point of describing it in “dirty” terms, but this took on a new meaning with a discussion I had with a family member at my grandson’s high school graduation. He, being a technician for a large power generation and distribution network, described electricity generated by the wind turbines as “dirty” when applied to his systems and causing problems with the grid substations and their components. Thinking this might be somewhat of a bias, I discovered there is something to the dirty electricity theory.

Referred to as “stray voltage,” this occurs when direct current (DC), that is produced by the wind turbines utilizing an inversion process is changed to alternating current (AC) with a 60-cycle or 60-hertz frequency for use throughout our nation’s grid. Additionally, it carries an additional 20 kilohertz of “dirty” electricity or electromagnetic pollution. As humans, we do not see, hear, feel taste or smell this energy, but the proliferation of electrical pollution creates problems for people who have a biological reaction. Magda Havas, an associated professor of environmental and resource studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, and a recognized expert said, “It can be likened to a peanut allergy; someone allergic to peanuts will get sick if exposed to [electrical pollution]; while someone who is not allergic will not react at all.”

The rising concern over this dirty electricity has even prompted the formation of a non-profit, grassroots organization, Mothers Against Wind Turbines, Inc. (MAWT). Based in Ontario, Canada, the organization’s mission statement is to protect the economy, communities and natural environment from the impacts of industrial-scale construction and operation of wind-power facilities. MAWT co-hosted a 2018 event, “Understanding Stray Voltage and Industrial Wind Turbines,” featuring a keynote speaker, David Stetzer of Blair, Wisc., with 40 years of consulting experience and senior member of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (IEEC). Stetzer further explained the issue of ground currents playing a role in the stray voltage or dirty electricity, as 80 percent of the power that returns to the substation is “dumped” onto the ground as a return circuit for the neutral current. Having conducted a 572-day study on the correlation between ground current and the daily milk production in more than 30,000 dairy cows, he said, “When the ground current was flowing, even as little as 10 millivolts, milk production dropped more than 90 percent of the time.”

Cows near wind farm projects are often seen lifting their feet to break the circuit and keep the current from running through. “They are referred to as dancing cows,” Magda Havas said. I surmise that Havas’ premise of “dancing” doesn’t correlate to “happy” cows.

“The electricity is actually flowing up one leg and across the body, then down the other leg. It flows right across the reproductive organs.” Havas said miscarriages or difficulty conceiving are commonly recognized as issues related to ground current moving through an animal’s body. However, she said ground current coupled with dirty electricity creates an even worse problem, resulting in issues like mastitis, swollen joints or foot sores that will not heal. Often, there are deformities in newborn animals in the area, as well. These complaints are not relegated to just farm animals; often the people living on the farms complain of similar symptoms.

Closer to home, residents living within the Golden West Wind Energy Center’s footprint in Calhan, Colo., have reported negative physical and psychological effects since the center’s 145 453-foot tall wind turbines became operational in 2015. In this same geographic footprint, there have been reported instances of stillborn livestock and deformities of others. Both Havas and Stetzer said they were not surprised to hear of this. “In fact, the electricity dissipates internally to the human body at as little as 2 kilohertz, so the 20 kilohertz from a wind farm project is definitely something to worry about,” Stetzer said.

Knowing enough about electricity to avoid anything more involved than replacing a light bulb, I ask, “What’s next?” According to both Stetzer and Havas there is a way to fix the dirty electricity and ground current problem, and that is to filter it.

“We know the characteristics of the electricity that we want,” Stetzer said. “We want only the 60-hertz frequency, not the 20 kilohertz one. You can filter the frequency so only the 60-hertz frequency can go through.”

He said he has never come across a wind farm that had been constructed or equipped with such a filter. He added, “Can we use wind energy safely? Yes, but it is going to cost some money.”

With my disdain for the logistics of moving these behemoth components on our nation’s roads, along with the sustainability issues of their manufacturing with rare earth minerals and apparent non-recyclable aspects, does wind energy make sense? Adding the stray voltage and ground current effects to the human and livestock populations, are we being misled? Not to mention the economics of such, which led one member of the audience at the MAWT co-hosted event to point out – industrial wind turbines are an intermittent power generator and only produce 28 percent of their nameplate capacity.

“It’s like buying a one-titted cow,” she said.