The state’s electric cooperatives say they have suffered $1 million in losses caused by copper thieves, so they are teaming up with Crimestoppers to bring more attention to the problem.
The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina (ECSC) have sponsored a PSA campaign and have donated $15,000 in rewards for tips leading to copper theft arrests.
Mike Couick, CEO of the ECSC, says their substations and large transformers are targets, and when they are disabled, causes serious damages to power equipment and danger to employees.
“The risk of death when they go into a situation where they may not be aware there has been a copper theft and there’s been something energized within a substation that is not typically energized,” says Couick. “So they are at just as much risk as a thief would be if they make contact with that part of a substation– 14,400 volts of electricity flowing through your body.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says thieves have died trying to steal the copper wire that grounds substations.
The other issue for co-ops is the cost to repair equipment, which will get passed to their members. He says for $100 worth of copper, thieves cause tens of thousands of dollars in damages — and power outages.
The co-ops are putting $15,000 into Crimestoppers for rewards for tips that lead to arrest, Couick says that is a start. They will invest more if needed, he says. Crimestoppers will pay from $100 up to $1000 per tip that leads to an arrest.
“South Carolina has a very effective and unique Crimestoppers that works well with law enforcement. We’ve heard from a number of folks about how well it works at the federal, state and local level. We’re willing to invest in things that work. This works,” says Couick.
Law enforcement leaders say that a new state law requiring a permit to sell scrap copper has also dramatically cut down on copper theft.