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Wisconsin dairy farmer seeking more than $6 million in stray voltage suit
July 15, 2017

A Wisconsin dairy farmer is seeking more than $6 million in a stray voltage suit. Paul Halderson, who is suing Xcel Energy for more than $6 million, will try to convince a jury that stray voltage from the utility’s lines harmed his cattle.

Paul, who with his wife, Lyn, has almost 1,000 cows on his Galesville farm, claims the herd suffered illness and decreased milk production for more than a decade because of improperly grounded power lines.

The Haldersons filed a suit in 2012 against Northern States Power, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy. The Haldersons are seeking to recoup damages incurred as long ago as 1993 that would be a record award by a Wisconsin jury in a stray voltage case, according to their attorney, Barry Hammarback.

The term stray voltage refers to current that leaks from neutral wires into the earth. Animals that come into contact with a grounded object — such as a watering trough — can receive small shocks. This can cause dairy cattle to avoid eating, become stressed and generally produce less milk, according to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission established guidelines in 1996 for acceptable levels of stray voltage for utility service, although a farm or home’s own wiring can also be the source, said Doug Reinemann, professor and chair of biological systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It’s typically some of each,” Reinemann said. “There’s always some coming from each side.”

A Wisconsin dairy farmer is seeking more than $6 million in a stray voltage suit.

Paul Halderson is pictured on his Galesville dairy farm in this 2005 file photo. Halderson is suing Xcel Energy for more than $6 million claiming stray voltage from the Minnesota-based utility’s lines harmed his herd for nearly 20 years. James A. Bowey, Winona Daily News

According to the Haldersons’ suit, NSP found excessive voltage in one of their barns beginning in 1996 but failed to report it. In 2011, the Haldersons hired a consultant who found high levels of electricity and concluded it was coming from the utility’s distribution system.

Halderson, a longtime member of the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau school board, claims this led to reduced milk production and the loss of $5.8 million in profits between 2004 and 2011 when Xcel installed equipment designed to reduce stray voltage.

“Until the stray voltage was eliminated, the Haldersons had to deal with the consequences of watching their herd struggle and fail to thrive,” the suit claims that Xcel “left the Haldersons to sit for 15 years when, even under its own guidances, it had data from which it should have concluded that there was a significant stray voltage issue at the dairy.”

Also named in the suit was Star Blends LLC, which the Haldersons said provided bad feed in June 2011 — shortly after Xcel installed equipment to address the stray voltage — that killed some of their cows and left others sick. The Sparta feed company settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

An Xcel spokeswoman said the company would not comment on pending litigation, but in court documents Xcel counters that the Halderson’s claim “teeters on the false premise that their herd should have produced milk at levels exceeding state and local averages.”

The utility claims “no one detected harmful currents” where cows were present and says Halderson’s problems resulted from his expansion during difficult times for the dairy industry, bad feed, disease, inadequate veterinary care and poor conditions for the cattle.

Arctic View expanded its operation in 2001 and 2005, growing the herd from around 200 cows to more than 900. Xcel says it tested for stray voltage each time new wiring was installed and did not find significant levels.

The case is scheduled for a three-week trial beginning Monday in Trempealeau County Circuit Court.

Reinemann, who has studied the issue for 27 years, said stray voltage lawsuits are rare these days because of state-level efforts to address the problem

“We’ve been working very hard on reducing levels in Wisconsin for over 30 years,” he said. “Wisconsin has put more effort into the stray voltage issue than any other state in the nation.”

The utility claims “no one detected harmful currents” where cows were present and says Halderson’s problems resulted from his expansion during difficult times for the dairy industry, bad feed, disease, inadequate veterinary care and poor conditions for the cattle.


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