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Nothing to be shocked by: electric fields are everywhere

Posted by Simi Heer

Electric fields exist everywhere, but you may feel them more intensely under power lines. They don't pose a health hazard and simply put, are produced by voltage in a wire. For example, an electric field is present when an appliance is plugged into an outlet even if it is not turned on.

The presence of electric fields may cause some to experience a "nuisance shock," especially when in close proximity to transmission lines. Initially, this may be a surprising sensation. However, our experts reassure us that there are no health or safety concerns associated with electric fields.

I asked Paul Choudhury, a senior manager in our Transmission and Distribution department, to explain why these "shocks" may occur.

"If you have walked under a power line you may have felt a tingling sensation in your arms," he said. "Our bodies are conductors of electricity and you can pick up a small electric charge if you stand or move under transmission lines. If you then touch someone or something else while under the power line, you may even experience a startle shock as charges are equalized.

"This may be a bit startling, but is harmless. It's similar to the shock you can sometimes get when you walk up to your car and touch the door handle.

"Generally speaking, this doesn't occur often. However, it may be more noticeable in wet conditions. For example, you may feel it more with wet shoes, socks and soil."

We have more than 18,000 kilometres of transmission lines in B.C. Many communities use the space under the lines (known as BC Hydro rights-of-way) to create sporting fields and recreational trails for general public use. As such, we expect that the public will be exposed to tingling sensations from time to time when using those rights-of-way.

We want our customers to know that BC Hydro builds and operates our transmission system in a safe manner so that British Columbians continue to receive reliable electricity where and when they need it, while also enjoying the benefits of our rights-of-way.

For more information, see bchydro.com's section on electric and magnetic fields.