GAIL MARTIN, Independent Editor
Bruce McClure is hoping for a mild winter.
That’s because he is unable to use his $30,000 geothermal system in his house, due to concerns about high voltage.
McClure has had difficulty with his brand-new system almost since it was first installed in his Drayton-area home in December 2011. That first winter, it operated fairly well, in part because he was switching back and forth between using the geothermal system, and using up the remaining oil in his home’s oil tank.
When he switched fully to geothermal, however, he soon found problems.The compressor stopped working, due to damage from high voltage. McClure contacted Hydro One, and they came and installed a voltage reader at his house.
While the voltage never exceeded the upper limit of 254 volts under which Hydro One is permitted to operate, the results showed that the voltage was consistently in the “high extreme” range, up to 253.4 volts, according to test results provided to the Independent by McClure.
Since Hydro One was under its delivery limit for high voltage, they claimed there was no problem.
Shortly after their inspection, McClure encountered another problem. His house fan motor burned out — causing his house to fill up with smoke and the smell of burning electronics.
His geothermal system was also experiencing more problems, with the compressor burning out again — to the point that the refrigerant gases were contaminated. A new geothermal air handler — at the cost of an additional $14,000 — was installed.
McClure, a home inspector by trade, started spending some time investigating alternative solutions.
He had already installed a surge protector system on his home, and a SecureStart electronics module, designed to regulate power on his geothermal system.
“I’ve done these things to help protect the system,” said McClure. “I did it right before I started it up.”
But, added McClure, “there’s nothing I can go out and buy and add on my side (to regulate) the power coming to my house.”
McClure currently has his own voltage meter in place, tracking the highs and lows of service to his home. There are many days when McClure says the voltage delivered to his home is consistently high, for hours on end — not giving him enough confidence to restart his geothermal system.
McClure said he cannot understand why a power monopoly such as Hydro One can be permitted to send power up to 254 volts to homes, when home electronics are designed for 230 volts, with a 10 per cent variance, which means the maximum voltage they should be able to handle is 253 volts.
As a home inspector, McClure has found many instances where homeowners have low-voltage problems. High voltage, however, is a little more rare. McClure believes the problem may be, in part, due to the fact that his home is near a transformer.
To date, McClure said he hasn’t received any satisfactory answers from Hydro One.
When contacted, Hydro One indicated it couldn’t comment on a specific case, but provided a general response.
“Momentary spikes in voltage levels are a systematic characteristic of every distribution station in North America, given that size, type and customer loading characteristics differ from feeder to feeder,” wrote Nancy Shaddick, communications officer with Hydro One, in an email.
“Hydro One, in accordance with the distribution code, investigates all consumer power quality complaints and reports the results of the investigation to the consumer.
“Customers looking for compensation for damages need to submit the appropriate forms to our Insurance Adjustor, Quelmec, at 1-888-872-6220.”
Shaddick indicated that Hydro One ensures “that voltage levels are within the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and ANSI limits of supply voltage.”
Again, this upper limit is 254 volts, higher than the voltage level most home electronics can handle.
McClure, however, is receiving some support from local politicians.
Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece has written a letter on McClure’s behalf to Energy Minister Chris Bentley, “asking what his government is going to do to ensure that Mr. McClure’s living environment is safe, and that mechanisms are put into place to provide a suitable voltage level at his home,” said Pettapiece, in an email.
As of press time, Pettapiece had not received a response. Mapleton council has also passed a resolution, and plans on sending its own letter to Bentley, in support of McClure.
In the meantime, McClure is hoping to find a solution, since he has no desire to start up his geothermal system without assurances the same problems won’t happen again.
“I haven’t used (geothermal) since July,” said McClure. “But it’s going to get cold soon, and I’ll need it.”