CORNING — Across Iowa, copper thefts from electric cooperatives have been occurring. These thefts can cause power surges, outages, fires, explosions and injuries to co-op workers or innocent people coming into contact with tampered equipment. In addition, post-theft repairs can run into the 10s of thousands of dollars, which must be covered by the affected co-ops and their members.
To combat this growing threat, Southwest Iowa REC has teamed up with Crime Stoppers to create a special toll-free phone line 800-452-1111, so citizens can report suspicious activities at one of the cooperative’s substations, or around other equipment, such as a transformer, power pole or even a meter at a residence, farm or business.
Crime Stoppers will contact the local sheriff or other law enforcement agency about the possible crime. After the caller has seen or heard on the local news that a crime has been solved, he or she can call Crime Stoppers to receive instructions for claiming a cash reward up to $1,000, although most rewards range from $20-200. The caller’s identity will remain anonymous throughout the process.
With scrap copper selling for about $3 a pound, thieves are risking their lives for no more than 10 to 25 pounds of copper wire, worth less than $100.
Southwest Iowa REC’s facilities in Corning, Mount Ayr and Stanton have all been broken into and large quantities of copper wire have been stolen, as well as in the rural areas where old lines were being retired and salvaged. Consider the following examples experienced by other electric cooperatives in Iowa:
• Many of the thefts are small ones, but they add up to big dollars. For example, 15 residential members at one electric co-op each lost a meter loop – the 17-foot copper line in conduit that runs to their electric meter. The replacement cost was more than $500 per location.
• On a larger scale, thieves cut a hole in a substation fence and stole 15-20 feet of copper wire with a scrap value of around $50. In the process, the intruders cut a ground wire to a regulator, causing it to fail and creating a three-hour outage for 900 co-op members. The estimated cost for repairs to the electric cooperative and its members totaled about $42,000.
• Some thieves don’t even enter a substation to commit their crimes. In a recent case, thieves cut all the ground wires – except one – off the fences surrounding a substation. The criminals took a chance in guessing that the one line they didn’t cut would prevent them from getting a fatal 69,000-volt static shock. In another case, burglars used a pickup truck to pull copper ground wires from several power poles just installed to replace storm-damaged poles along a rural road.
“These thieves are risking their lives and the lives of others for a very small return on their ‘investment’ in crime,” said Duane Schafer, director of operations, Southwest Iowa REC. “The new Crime Stoppers program will help deter these criminals. We want the eyes of our community to help us stop copper thefts.”