Monday, June 23, 2008

Copper Theft Is Dangerous Activity

PRNewswire -- Rising prices for copper have led to increased thefts from utilities, construction and industrial sites, creating a serious problem throughout Georgia.

Georgia Power has been no exception. As the price of copper goes up, Georgia Power has seen a steady correlated increase in the number of thefts, attempted thefts and break-ins at substations, from the poles themselves and other property locations.

In the past two years the average price of a pound of copper has gone up almost 200 percent. But from 2005 to 2007, the number of wire theft cases the company has investigated has gone up more than 500 percent, while losses have increased more than 600 percent.

"We actively investigate all thefts or attacks on our property," says Philip Peacock, investigations supervisor for Georgia Power. "We work closely with local law enforcement to identify and prosecute anyone who does something like this. Arrests of individuals involved in these thefts from Georgia Power have increased more than 900 percent."

Not only is there a financial impact to the company, there are significant safety implications as well. When thieves target electric lines and equipment they put themselves, utility employees and, potentially, residents in danger.

Many substations receive power in at 500,000 volts and reduce it down to about 11,000 volts, which is still a lethal dose. Before any utility staff are allowed to work around this equipment they must have safety training and are required to wear personal protective equipment such as insulated shoes, hard hats, and other specific materials.

"We've had several instances where these would-be thieves have been severely injured," continued Peacock, "including critical, life-threatening electrical burns or loss of body parts. Anyone who does this is putting their life at extreme risk."

These thefts also threaten the operation of the electric grid, which can cause widespread outages and endanger employees working on lines.

The company has initiated a number of programs to tackle the problem. Security has been increased at all company locations. Peacock says, where possible, copper wire in the system is being replaced with steel-clad wire, which has little value in the scrap metal market.

In addition, the Georgia legislature passed a new law in 2007 increasing the penalties for anyone who steals or knowingly recycles stolen copper.

"The risks just aren't worth the few dollars someone might be able to get for the amount of copper available in our substations," noted Peacock. "It's just not worth their life or being permanently disabled from now on."

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