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Induced Currents In Transmission Towers And Poles
Induced Currents In Transmission Towers And Poles (photo credit: Stuart Macdonald via

Electric Field

Landowners and developers should be aware of the potential for nuisance and startle shocks (caused by induced voltage) that can occur when someone comes in contact with a large conductive object (eg. a vehicle, building or even fencing) located on or off the right-of-way.

These shocks are known as ‘nuisance’ or ‘startle’ since they will not physically hurt someone, but will be noticed by some people and provoke a startle reaction.

These touch currents occur when a grounded individual touches an ungrounded object while standing in an Electric Field (e-field). Conductive objects when placed in an e-field attract a charge, and a person touching that object can experience an annoying or startling shock when a person’s body provides a path to ground for the current to follow.

There are many factors which influence the likelihood of nuisance shocks and the extent that people will notice them. These include:

  • Line voltage
  • Conductor to ground clearance
  • Size of the vehicle or object
  • Location on or off the right of way
  • Atmospheric conditions
  • Personal physiology
Electric fields emanate from any conductor or wire that carries voltage. Higher line voltages produce higher electric field strengths. The closer the conductor is to the ground, the higher the field strength beneath it tends to be, and the increased possibility of shocks.

Larger objects such as a building or a large vehicle have the capability of a larger charge and therefore the shock could be more noticeable. Backyard metallic objects such as swings, portable grills and lawnmowers have been known to deliver similar shocks.

Ungrounded metal wire fences can also receive sufficient charges to cause nuisance shocks. During building construction, workers have also received shocks when installing ungrounded gutters and downspouts on structures built close to the edge of the right-of-way. Homeowners may also experience shocks when cleaning gutters if the gutters are not properly grounded.

People or animals can receive a shock by touching a metal object located near a transmission line.

The shock is similar to that received by touching a television after walking across a carpet. The magnitude and the strength of the charge will be related to the mass of the ungrounded metal object and its orientation to the transmission line.

Induced current can be prevented or corrected by grounding metal objects near the transmission line.

Grounding chains can be installed on tractors. Metal fences can be connected to a simple ground rod with an insulated lead and wire clamp. Electric fences with proper grounding should continue functioning properly even when subject to induced voltage. Refueling vehicles directly under a high-voltage transmission line is not a good practice. A spark from a discharging metal structure with induced voltages to earth could ignite the fuel.

The risk of such ignition is higher with gasoline-powered vehicles than for diesel-powered vehicles. 

Electric Induction – Structures

Typically, buildings and storage sheds will not be permitted within the utility corridor, and are not a particular concern. However, lower electric field strengths also can exist outside of the corridor and buildings outside of the corridor should be considered.

For structures outside the right of way, it is easy to reduce the potential for startle or annoyance possibilities by attaching a ground wire to the metal roof.

This protection also provides a measure of lightning protection for the structure. Buildings entirely made of metal are not normally of any concern because they are often inherently well grounded, but exceptions might exist for structures on wood foundations or on a high-resistance material. Again, it is usually a simple matter to ground such objects if necessary.

Zinc rain gutters
Zinc rain gutters

In the same manner, rain gutters on a large house fairly close to the transmission line could conceivably deliver a perceptible shock to a person on an aluminum ladder.

Quantitative worst-case analysis of any particular case can be difficult, but it is possible to determine if reducing the potential for perceptible shocks is a prudent precaution.

It is a simple procedure to attach a wire to the downspout and ground it to a metal water pipe or a driven ground rod to mitigate shock effects.

Electric Induction – Fences

Transmission towers next to bikeway and metal fences
Transmission towers next to bikeway and metal fences on Van Bibber Creek Open Space, Jefferson County, Colorado (photo credit: Stuart Macdonald)

Long fence wires that are strung on wooden posts can present shock possibilities if they run more or less parallel and close to the transmission line. The insulation quality of the wooden posts is the controlling parameter. Perpendicular fences will have significantly less induced current and voltage.

When exposed to the weather, even wooden posts are not perfect insulators. The lack of insulation will reduce the induced voltage on a fence wire and will limit the magnitude of a spark discharge.

Nevertheless, some fences could be insulated enough by the posts to make contact currents annoying when the fence is touched. This type of fence would have to be close to the line and quite long before it produced annoying currents. Long fences are often grounded by contact with growing vegetation. If grounded in this manner, electric field effects will be reduced, although magnetic field effects will remain unaffected.

The possibility of annoyance due to electric field induction could be eliminated by solidly grounding the fence at a single point, such as with a metal fence post.

For an “electric fence,” this is accomplished with a special filter designed to drain only the induced charge. However, a fence that is grounded at one or more points and otherwise insulated along a sufficient distance could present some opportunity for noticeable magnetic field induction effects.

Reducing the potential of these effects requires electrically breaking the fence into smaller grounded sections.

  • Guidelines for Development Near Overhead Transmission Lines in BC – BC Hydro
  • Environmental impacts of transmission lines – Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

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About Author


Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, buildings and industry fascilities. Designing of LV/MV switchgears.Professional in AutoCAD programming and web-design.Present on


    Jun 21, 2016

    Thank U

  2. babak
    Aug 29, 2015

    I know my question needs more information and is not accurate enough! But any idea how much current (approximate) would pass from each phase of typical 100kV transmission line?

  3. Prof. V R Sheelavant
    Aug 21, 2014

    Thanks Edvard !
    Very useful for an Electrical Engineering Teacher !
    Keep up the good work

  4. Pongsak Harnboonyanon
    Jul 12, 2014

    Useful for EE students. For practical engineers,they need more information to design a grounding system
    for metallic objects nearby transmission line..Samples on design and real installation of grounding system will make this article perfect.

  5. Mike Miller
    Jun 29, 2014

    That is very interesting, I’ve often wondered about this.

  6. shivakumar
    Jun 29, 2014

    Really very good article

  7. John Dagenhart
    Jun 27, 2014

    Terry, the article Edvard wrote is fairly accurate. While you are correct that a moving conductor in a magnetic field will produce a voltage, the electric field will create a trapped charge on a large metallic object that is separated from the ground by a dielectric substance. An example is a large vehicle or truck sitting on rubber tires. Another example is a long fence mounted on wood fence posts. It is just a large capacitor. The amount of charge is determined by the factors Edvard describes. Standards such as the U.S. National Electrical Safety Code have requirements on clearances of transmission lines above 98kV such that the potential current that could be developed is below the specified level of 5 mA. While a discharge of such a level can startle or even be painful, it is not considered hazardous and is not at a level that would typically cause a cardiac pacemaker to malfunction.

  8. Dorin Pestereanu
    Jun 27, 2014

    Thanks Edvard !
    Very useful for our electrical engineers !
    Keep up the good work

  9. Terry
    Jun 27, 2014

    Interesting article. I find the term “electrical field” to be somewhat inaccurate. There is a field around all current carrying conductors but it is a magnetic field. Moving another conductor through this magnetic field or the rise and fall of the magnetic field (AC) over another conductor will induce a voltage in the second conductor. Current will be determined by the resistance of whatever (or whoever) completes the circuit to ground.

  10. ElectroShaman
    Jun 27, 2014

    Very interesting. Thanks.

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