Copper Theft

Copper Theft on the Rise

Copper theft is a serious problem in our community that jeopardizes public safety and can lead to severe injury or even death. Complaints of copper theft have increased dramatically, causing concern for member safety. Several substations have been targeted across the country. Thieves are cutting through substation fencing to take copper reels, and copper products have been stolen from utility trucks, transformers, work sites, and storage facilities.

“Danger” – Keep Out

The situation is more serious than thefts alone. Substation intruders in Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, and Texas have been electrocuted while attempting to steal copper. By trespassing in substations, these people gambled with their lives and lost.

Some pieces of equipment in the substation could be energized at more than 100,000 volts. Electric utility substations are clearly marked with warning signs that read “Danger – Keep Out.” This means think “safety first,” and walk the other way. Co-ops, including Union Power, also take other precautions to guard electric substations against intrusion. Fencing around substations is normally 8 feet high on all sides, and specially keyed padlocks are placed on entrances.

Copper Theft is a Felony Crime

Not only does copper theft create potential hazards for thieves, but it is also a felony crime, and offenders will be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows. Copper theft costs the utility money, decreases reliability, and may even put co-op employees at risk of accidental confrontation with thieves.

New Law Bans Cash for Copper

In June 2012, legislators passed The Metal Theft Prevention Act, banning cash payments for copper by metal recyclers. This law prevents criminals from selling stolen copper for fast cash. Other key provisions of the law:
  • Buyers must have a recycler/buyer permit issued by the sheriff that can be revoked if the recycling law is not adhered to.
  • Recycler must take pictures of seller and metals being purchased to aid law enforcement
  • Recycler must maintain copies of valid photo identification of seller, and other pertinent information including vehicle license description (license plate number, make, model, color) of seller.
  • Restitution to the property owner or recycler may be ordered by a court, and there will be stiff penalties for any seller of stolen goods.

Securing Safety, Deterring Theft

Union Power reminds citizens to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Call 911 if you think you’re witnessing a copper theft. Make note of suspects’ physical and vehicle descriptions, including license plate numbers. Anyone who sees evidence of copper theft, like open substation gates or equipment, holes dug under fences and dangling wire should also call the Cooperative’s office at (704) 289-3145.