Stray Voltage - Definitions - Working Definition

Working Definition

In spite of the above definitions, the term stray voltage continues to be used by both utility workers and the general public for all occurrences of unwanted excess electricity. For example, at the annual "Jodie S. Lane Stray Voltage Detection, Mitigation & Prevention Conference", held at the Con Edison headquarters in New York City in April 2009, which attracted the presidents of most major utilities from throughout the United States and Canada, the utility leaders continued to use stray voltage for all occurrences of unwanted excess electricity. The term contact voltage was used only one time. It would seem that stray voltage is now the common term for all unwanted voltage leakage.

In New York City, a woman named Jodie S. Lane was electrocuted by a five-foot by eight-foot road utility vault plate energized by an "improperly insulated wire" in January 2004. In the coverage of the growing concern regarding public the role of utilities in electrical safety in the urban environment that her death triggered, both the media and the New York state regulatory agency used stray voltage was for neutral-to-earth voltage (NEV), but conceded that the notoriety of the Jodie S. Lane incident had caused stray voltage to be a term that is well recognized by the public. At that point, the regulator used stray voltage for any “"voltage conditions on electric facilities that should not ordinarily exist. These conditions may be due to one or more factors, including, but not limited to, damaged cables, deteriorated, frayed or missing insulation, improper maintenance, or improper installation." In the same document, the commission accepted NEV to be a naturally occurring condition.

Since that time, the term “stray voltage” has had at least two very different definitions. This situation is cause for confusion among utilities, regulators, and the public. The term "stray voltage" is commonly used for all unwanted electrical leakage, by both the general public and many electrical utility professionals. Other more esoteric phenomenon that also result in elevated voltages on normally non-energized surfaces, are also referred to as “stray voltage.” Examples are voltage due to capacitive coupling, current induced by power lines, EMF, lightning, earth potential rise, and problems stemming from open (disconnected) neutrals.

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