Molly Hall, Director of Safe Electricity
Copper theft not worth the ultimate price
Impacts from illegal activity are far-reaching
Copper theft has reached an epidemic level that is not only affecting the United States, but is international and creating immense global havoc. According to the U.S. Department of Energy the theft of copper costs the national economy around $1 billion per year. The increase in copper theft has disrupted the flow of electricity, created electrical hazards, slowed down construction projects and knocked out irrigation networks across the United States.
Additionally, when thieves cut locks or chain link fencing surrounding an electric substation they leave a highly dangerous area exposed for inquisitive children and animals.
Stealing material from an electric substation or utility pole can cause not only serious injuries and death, but extensive outages, fires and explosions — consequences that impact innocent people. The minimum damage that can occur is an outage, which may affect thousands of individuals. The ultimate cost of copper theft can be someone’s life.
In October, Ameren employees sent to repair an outage found the cause — a dead man, who while attempting to steal copper wire, cut into an energized wire. His two accomplices fled the scene.
In August a 23-year-old man broke into a North Carolina electric co-op’s substation to steal copper wire. He was perched atop a high-voltage regulator when he apparently cut a wire. The jolt of electricity knocked him 10 feet away from the regulator and he was dead at the scene.
The members of Oklahoma Electric Cooperative are facing an estimated $1 million repair bill because copper thieves wrecked a substation for just $100 worth of copper. The damage caused an outage and destroyed regulators and a large transformer valued at $600,000. Given the fire and destruction, co-op officials are amazed they didn’t find a burned body in the substation, too.
People must be aware of this kind of theft and that tampering with electric power facilities can result in extremely dangerous situations. Always alert your utility provider when you see or suspect suspicious activity.
Safe Electricity offers these tips to help safeguard against electrical dangers and prevent copper theft:
• Never enter or touch equipment inside a substation; stay away from power lines and anything touching a power line.
• If you notice anything unusual with electric facilities, such as an open substation gate, open equipment, hanging wire, etc. contact your electric utility immediately.
• If you see anyone around electric substations or electric facilities other than utility personnel or contractors, call the police.
• Install motion-sensor lights on the outside of your house and business to deter possible thieves.
• Store tools and wire cutters in a secure location and never leave them out while away.
• If you work in construction, do not leave any wires unattended or leave loose wire at the job site, especially overnight. Consider hiring a night security guard.
• Help spread the word about the deadly consequences that can result from trying to steal copper.
Copper theft is not harmless. Dealing with any metal and electricity is a dangerous combination, especially when it is done without permission or training. Copper theft places the thief and others in danger.
People who think stealing electric wire is a quick way to earn some easy money should think again. The value of metal is not worth losing a life.
For more information, visit: www.SafeElectricity.org.
Molly Hall is the Director of Safe Electricity. Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council www.EnergyEdCouncil.org.