Copper thefts continue at electric facilities; public asked to watch for suspicious activities

August 9, 2011

Columbus, Neb. – Nebraska Public Power District is asking the public to help be their “eyes and ears” and be on the lookout for the potential theft of copper wiring from transmission poles and substations across the state.

A recent series of thefts of copper wiring from NPPD facilities has utility officials concerned for the potential loss of service to its customers across the state, and the potential for serious injury or worse to the individuals attempting to steal the material.

“Stealing copper or other metals from substations or other electric facilities, whether it’s NPPD or local rural public power districts, is a crime,” explained NPPD Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Kent. “Copper theft is also a safety issue, potentially causing harm to the thieves, members of the public and electrical workers. Also copper thefts can cause power outages that can be inconvenient for customers and costly to business.”

Kent urges anyone who may see suspicious activity at electric substations or near transmission lines to contact their local law enforcement agency with a description of the individuals and vehicles involved. He emphasized that individuals should not attempt to apprehend the individuals, but contact law enforcement immediately.

Kent stressed that NPPD’s service vehicles are well-marked with bright orange bumpers and that other utilities serving specific areas have wording or logos on their vehicles identifying them as an electric utility. “The public should alert local law enforcement of any vehicles that are not identified as being from a utility, activities that appear to be unusual, or individuals that appear to be acting suspicious around electric facilities including power line poles,” he added.

Copper is used in the electric industry to deliver electricity to homes and businesses, and is also used in the grounding system to protect the public and utility workers. When copper is stolen, the electrical system becomes compromised and could cause injuries and death under certain circumstances.

NPPD is currently working with law enforcement agencies across the state to make them aware of the signs of potential copper theft and their personal safety when investigating these thefts.

Some of the signs of copper theft to watch for include:

  • Loose or broken wires;
  • Broken utility pole attachments;
  • Open gates at unattended substations;
  • Holes in substation fences;
  • Burn marks on utility equipment; and
  • Electrical arcing.