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SWEPCO says copper thieves could be placing safety and electric reliability at risk

July 6, 2010

The market for scrap metal is driving an increase in the theft of metal - especially aluminum and copper. AEP (American Electric Power) operating companies in Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas report a rise in the theft of electrical equipment, and there was a public fatality in December 2006 in Kilgore, Texas from copper theft. SWEPCO has recently investigated copper theft incidents at company facilities in multiple locations in Texarkana(three substations in Miller County and two in Bowie  Countyalone); also in Longview, Marshall, Gilmer, Gladewater and Mineola, Texas, and in Shreveportand Haughton, La.  AEP reports that some thieves are even cutting into power lines and other equipment that is energized and serving customers.  SWEPCO is asking its customers to report to law enforcement officials any suspicious activity near a utility pole, transmission tower or substation.
According to Malcolm Smoak, vice president of Distribution Region Operations for SWEPCO, this kind of activity has the potential to place public safety at risk. “A complete wiring system helps provide a safer and more reliable source of electricity,” says Smoak. “An element of protection is lost when the design of the electric delivery system is altered in an attempt to get at the metal for resale to a salvage center,” said Smoak. 
Smoak emphasizes that if a would-be thief happened to survive contact with an energized cable or device, that person could leave behind a dangerous condition for an innocent passerby.   “Connections can be loosened, or energized equipment could be exposed, jeopardizing public safety,” says Smoak. “Many times someone who contacts energized electrical equipment does not survive.”
While most thieves do their best to avoid detection, some are getting bolder, deliberately posing as utility or construction workers.   “Only trained personnel should be in close proximity to power lines or substation equipment,” said Smoak. “It takes years of experience and the need for specialized equipment to work safely in this environment.”
Smoak also noted that when people decide to cut into electrical equipment to scavenge metal, they steal from everyone in the community. Customers could experience interruptions in electric service as a result of a theft of power cables. Another consequence is the potential for damage to sensitive electronic equipment commonly used in homes and businesses such as computers, televisions, air conditioners, and other devices that have electronic equipment.
SWEPCO also reminds customers that the use of surge protection devices on sensitive electronic equipment is a good precaution even when the theft of equipment is not a consideration. Use of an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) or a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) should be used wherever possible. It’s also a good idea to make sure the grounding system in your home is in good condition. Electrical grounding ensures that if there is ever a short circuit on a piece of electrical equipment, current will flow through the ground system and trip a breaker or blow a fuse. SWEPCO recommends contacting a licensed electrician in your area if there are any concerns about the grounding system in your home.

SWEPCO Corporate Communications
Scott McCloud


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