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Utilities share strategies to stifle the industry’s $60 million problem: copper theft

From the December 18, 2012 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published December 18, 2012

By Fallon Forbush
Communications Assistant
Increased incidences of copper theft and the direct cost and damage it causes to personnel and customers alike have utilities on the offensive. With copper hovering around $3.25 a pound, utilities are a natural target.
In January 2009, the Electrical Safety Foundation International published a report on copper thefts. More than 95 percent of the utilities surveyed by ESFI reported incidences of copper theft during the previous 12 months. More than 86 percent said they had a process in place to track incidences of copper theft.
The report estimated that the annual value of the copper stolen from utilities nationwide was just over $20 million. The additional cost impact (additional equipment damage, labor costs to repair/replace, outage costs, etc.) was just over $60 million. The estimated minutes of outages experienced by utilities nationwide as a result of copper theft was 456,000 (about 7,600 hours). In terms of injuries and fatalities, the report estimated that there were 54 copper theft-related injuries and 35 deaths in the previous year.

In capturing a team of copper thieves, LADWP found a crude yet effective setup that involved night-vision cameras mounted on all-terrain vehicles. Photo courtesy of LADWP
But, utilities are taking steps to prevent copper thievery.
An article about these steps, "Preventing Copper Thievery," appears in the November-December 2012 issue of Public Power magazine. 
Strategies include joining forces with industry experts to form coalitions, and establishing hotline numbers for people to report license plate numbers and physical descriptions of individuals and/or vehicles. Others utilize video surveillance equipment and special fencing. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power now has an incident tracking system.
Independence Power & Light in Missouri removed the profit motive for thieves and buyers of stolen copper altogether by replacing copper ground wire in substations with copper-clad rods.
The Public Power magazine article, written by William Atkinson, is available online at
Subscriptions to the electronic and print editions of Public Power and all other APPA periodicals are free to all employees and board members of APPA member utilities and associate members. An online subscription signup form is on


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