The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that copper theft costs the nation more than $1 billion each year.
In addition to the huge cost, vandalized equipment creates deadly hazards for the general public and for utility company workers. Work crews lose valuable time repairing and replacing equipment damaged by thieves. Fixing damaged equipment strains budgets.
Two developments aim to disrupt copper theft.
In Florida, an electric cooperative recently crafted a new security device to use at its substations that allows employees in the utility’s control center to see and react promptly to potential criminal activity.
From a different angle, lawmakers in many states are making it much more difficult for copper thieves to turn stolen property into cash. Many of these laws focus on how scrap metal dealers handle transactions.
New rules include such steps as:
• Requiring a seller to prove legitimate ownership of the copper
• Requiring detailed identification from a seller, including the individual’s name, address, driver’s license, vehicle license number, and fingerprints
• Delaying payment by mailing a check instead of paying cash on the spot.
Other laws also require pawn shops and scrap metal dealers to keep detailed records of every transaction involving copper and share that information with law enforcement officials. A few new laws prohibit dealers from accepting scrap metal that has obviously been smelted, burned, or melted.
Kentucky uses this multi-angled approach. Since June, the state’s newest law requires recycling centers to obtain proof of ownership from scrap copper sellers and make payment by mailed check.
Electric utilities everywhere encourage the public to report suspected copper theft activities to local law enforcement officials.