The price of copper has been inching up slightly this year, and so have copper thefts.In the past week, the Nebraska Public Power District has seen a significant jump in thefts of copper from locked substations.
Copper theft, specifically to pick up a small amount of quick cash, is especially harmful because of the danger it creates when the copper is taken from electric utility property, such as substations and power poles.
The dangers include fires, explosions, power outages, electric shock or even loss of life.
Individuals have entered several substations illegally and have taken ground wires, typically an eighth-inch copper rod used to direct stray current to the ground and minimize equipment damage.
There is no way to know by looking at the ground rod and wiring whether it is carrying electricity or not at any given time.
“We are asking the public to be our eyes and ears and be on the lookout for the potential theft of copper wiring from transmission poles and substations across the state,” said NPPD Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Kent.
“The substations targeted are located in rural areas as opposed to those located in communities, Kent said.
“Stealing copper or other metals from substations or electric facilities is a crime,” he added.
Kent said copper theft is a significant safety issue for thieves, and it can potentially harm members of the public and utility workers.
Copper thefts can cause power outages that can be inconvenient for customers and costly to businesses.
NPPD urges anyone who sees suspicious activity at electric substations to contact their local law enforcement agency with a description of the individuals and vehicles involved. Kent emphasized that the public should not attempt to apprehend the intruders.
He also said NPPD’s service vehicles are well-marked with bright orange bumpers.
Other utilities serving specific areas have wording or logos on their vehicles, identifying them as an electric utility, too.
The public should alert local law enforcement of any vehicles that are not identified as a utility as well as activities that appear to be unusual, or individuals that appear to be acting suspicious around electric facilities, including power line poles,” he added.
NPPD makes law enforcement across the state aware of the signs of potential copper theft and their personal safety in investigating such thefts.
Some of the signs of copper theft to watch for include:
• Loose or broken wires;
• Broken utility pole attachments;
• Open gates at unattended substations or holes in the security fence;
• Burn marks on utility equipment; and
• Electrical arcing.
NPPD works with the state's rural public power districts, cooperatives and municipalities to help serve an estimated 600,000 Nebraskans in 86 of the state’s 93 counties with retail or wholesale electric power and energy-related products and services.