How to reduce wire thefts, and the outages they spawn

Would you risk being hit by lightning for $100?

Seems a bit ludicrous, but desperate times cause folks to do foolish things. Thefts of copper, bronze, aluminum, and bronze are on the rise, at abandoned commercial buildings, empty homes, and—most dangerously—at power substations near neighborhoods.

We need your help to keep our equipment safe, prevent outages, and save lives. At an electric co-op in Oklahoma recently, metal thieves took off with about $100 worth of wire in a substation, but left behind a $1 million repair bill after a fire destroyed regulators, switches, and a $600,000 transformer. More than 3,500 consumers were temporarily left in the dark after the incident, although the co-op moved quickly to reroute power to affected areas.

It’s hard to understand why folks would put their life on the line for a few dollars. Many law enforcement officials believe that methamphetamine users are responsible for much of the problem. And the damage done to our system packs a big punch, since equipment can be ruined without the protection copper wires provide.

There’s also the potential for loss of life.

In 2010, metal theft-related deaths occurred in North Carolina, West Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio. The cost for scrap copper goes up and down, but recently it’s been on the rise—and so have robbery attempts. In January 2011 scrap copper sold for five times the amount it went for in 2001. We use copper to ground our equipment, protecting it from electrical surges and lightning by giving electricity a safe path to ground. We use a lot of copper wire in our substations, where we step-down high-voltage electricity arriving from distant power plants before it travels to your neighborhood. Then another transformer near your home—either mounted on a utility pole or in a green box on the ground—lowers the voltage again so you can use the power at home. Copper is an essential component every step of the way.

Our linemen are highly trained professionals who understand the dangers of working with electricity and take proper safety precautions. To protect the public we surround our substations with secure fencing and post warning signs. But some thieves will not be deterred. Please help us prevent these thefts. If you notice anything unusual, such as an open substation gate, open equipment, or hanging wire, call Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative immediately at (800) 342-4671. If you see anyone other than our utility personnel or contractors around substations or other electric facilities, call the police.