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Help NFEC Battle Copper Crime

Soaring metal prices have been blamed for an increase in thefts of copper and aluminum, primary components of electric distribution lines. Recent thefts of copper wire and equipment from electric utilities have been responsible for power outages, additional maintenance and expenses, diminished service reliability, and, in some cases, serious injury or death.

Copper in wire is appealing to thieves who want to sell the metal for scrap. Burglars will often climb power poles, scale fences, and break into buildings to steal the precious metal. Needless to say, a 542-percent increase in the price of copper since 2001 has prompted thieves to become bolder and more inventive.

In Oklahoma, members of one electric co-op are facing an estimated $1 million repair bill because copper thieves wrecked a substation for just $100 worth of the metal last year. In New Mexico, a man was found dead beneath a power pole, electrocuted while trying to cut copper wiring from a live transformer. A Texas man lost his life when he cut into a live power line while trying to steal copper. Similar accidents have been reported across the country.

“To a would-be thief, stealing copper may seem like a quick way to make a buck,” says NFEC Director of Operations Richard Bowdre. “But it’s illegal, it’s costly, and it’s not worth a life. Working with any metal and electricity is a dangerous combination, even for trained employees using proper equipment.”

Some electric cooperatives stamp copper and aluminum wire with an ID number to deter theft. Stolen wire is commonly brought to recycling centers and traded for cash. Although many state laws require recycling centers to keep records of transactions, enforcement can be difficult. Without identifying marks, stolen wire is hard to track and is rarely recovered.

Thieves may not understand they are risking their lives by taking copper from substations, where high transmission voltage is stepped down to a lower current for distribution lines. All power lines carry a potentially deadly charge.

Northfork Electric urges you to follow the following guidelines to guard against electrical dangers and prevent copper theft.

• Never enter or touch equipment inside a substation; stay away from power lines and anything touching a power line.

• If you notice anything unusual with electric facilities, such as an open substation gate, open equipment, or hanging wire, contact your electric coop immediately.

• If you see anyone around electric substations or electric facilities other than co-op personnel or contractors, call the police.

• Install motion-sensor lights on the outside of your house and business to deter possible thieves.

• Store tools and wire cutters in a secure location, and never leave them out while you are away.

• If you work in construction, do not leave any wires or plumbing unattended or leave loose wire at the job site, especially overnight.

• Help spread the word about the deadly consequences that can result from trying to steal copper or aluminum.

Please help us prevent these thefts. If you notice anything unusual, call Northfork Electric immediately at 580-928-3366. If you see anyone other than co-op personnel or contractors around substations or other electric facilities, call the police.

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