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Copper power line theft back on the rise

Posted at 9:00 AM, Apr 18, 2019

Back in May we told you about thieves stealing copper to make a quick buck. Now, 11 months later, they are back it.

Thieves don’t seem to care that it’s illegal, it’s costly, and that it could be life-threatening.

Police officials in Jim Wells County say the theft of copper wire from utility poles has been on the rise over the past few months.

Thieves have been taking the copper wire off utility poles, not only in Jim Wells County, but also in Live Oak, San Patricio, Duvall, and Nueces.  Most thefts have occurred on county roads with little to no traffic.

“It’s probably 15 to 20 counties throughout the lower coast of the Coastal Bend all the way up to the Galveston area.  Not really sure where this material is going; we have checked several salvage yards and had some leads but nothing concrete at this time, ”said Jim Wells County Constable Precinct 3 Jim Long.

The cost of the copper power lines that have been stolen is starting to rack up for NEC Co-op Energy and their members.

“We have seen over 23-25 miles of line being vandalized and stolen. The cost has been upwards of $320,000 over just this past year, and this is money coming straight out of our members’ pockets,” said NEC Chief Operating Officer Avan Irani.

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

“Our lines are energized with over 25,000 volts of electricity, and sub stations could be upwards of 70,000 volts. And it takes highly skilled and experienced personnel to handle these lines. If you don’t know what you are doing, you can seriously hurt yourself, hurt the general public, or even kill somebody,” said Irani.

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

“They have no salvage value whatsoever so these thieves, if they think they are stealing copper, they are sadly mistaken. They are just doing a lot of damage with no monetary value whatsoever,” said Irani.

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.

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.

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.