Copper thieves targeting power lines in Jim Wells County

Posted at 5:26 AM, Jun 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-06 06:26:28-04

Stealing copper may seem like a quick way to make a buck. But it’s illegal, it’s costly, and it’s not worth a life.

Thieves have no idea of the danger -for themselves and the repair crews-when they try to steal copper from utility poles.

Over the last 3 weeks the major target for thieves has been the copper wiring on utility poles in Jim Wells County. Most thefts have occurred during nighttime hours on county roads with little to no traffic.

"It is pretty brazen to come and take them off these power lines. We have received reports and documentation from Orange Grove, Sandia, Alice, Alfred, all the way to 281 North," said Jim Wells County Constable Precinct 3 Jim Long.

Stolen copper is valuable as scrap because the metal is used for so many items-from fiber optics to plumbing to anything electrical-and the profits are tempting.Scrap metal dealers pay up to $3 a pound for the copper.

"I believe we are up to a little more than 14,000 feet now of copper wire that has been taken off high lines here in Jim Wells County. It adds up, but it is still a very dangerous situation and very costly for NEC Co-op Energy to come back and repair," said Long.

The value for the amount of copper stolen is still unknown, and the damage is going to be quite extensive, anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 to replace the stolen copper wires, and repair the utility poles.

"When they remove this common ground off these wires, it still feeds electricity, so the people in line where this activity has taken place, it is not affecting their electrical service, but it becomes a dangerous situation should there ever be a power spike, and it is a big drain on NEC having to come back and repair all this," said Long.

It’s a crime that results in thousands of dollars in damages, ultimately paid for by Nueces Electric Cooperative members.

To fight back against this persistent threat, for the past several years NEC has used an aluminum wire with a steel core during repairs and new installations. 

Because it is steel inside instead of copper, the wire is harder to cut and has minimal scrap value. In addition, the bonding process of the aluminum and steel does not allow galvanic corrosion, which ensures longevity in service.

"As a cooperative, all members have equal financial participation, and it’s unfortunate that we have to cover these types of losses. It cuts into the margins we give back to members. The associated cost, such as labor and repair, go beyond materials costs. With over 3,200 miles of line, there is no way we can keep an eye on every mile, and there is no type of insurance coverage that will cover open powerline theft," said NEC Assistant General Manager Sarah Fisher.

Officials are asking anyone with information on these incidents to call the Jim Wells County Constable Precinct 3 at 361-547-9895.

People are also urged to call law enforcement if they hear of anyone seeking to sell a large amount of copper wire.

Anyone who sees suspicious activity near power poles or substations should call 9-1-1.