Copper theft: gain a buck, lose a life

July 17, 2017

Columbus, Neb. – The price of copper has been inching up slightly in 2017, and so have copper thefts. Copper theft, done specifically to pick up a small amount of cash quickly, is especially harmful because of the safety risks it creates when taken from electric utility property, such as substations and power poles. The risk can cause fires, explosions, power outages, electric shock, or even loss of life.

In the past week, Nebraska Public Power District has seen a significant jump in thefts of copper from its locked substations. Individuals have entered several substations illegally and have taken grounds, typically an eight inch copper rod used to direct stray current to the ground and minimize equipment damage. There is no way to know by looking at the ground rod and wiring whether it is carrying electricity or not at any given time.

“We are asking the public to be our ‘eyes and ears’ and be on the lookout for the potential theft of copper wiring from transmission poles and substations across the state,” said NPPD Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Kent. “The substations targeted are located in rural areas as opposed to those located in communities. Stealing copper or other metals from substations or electric facilities is a crime.”

Kent explained that copper theft is a significant safety issue for the thieves, but it can potentially cause harm to members of the public and utility workers. Copper thefts can cause power outages that can be inconvenient for customers and costly to business.

NPPD urges anyone who may see suspicious activity at electric substations to contact their local law enforcement agency with a description of the individuals and vehicles involved. Kent emphasized that individuals should not attempt to apprehend the intruders.

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

NPPD works 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 or holes in the security fence;
  • Burn marks on utility equipment; and
  • Electrical arcing
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