Fighting the Copper Theft Epidemic

Utility, telecom and construction industries look for security solutions

The growing economies of India and China have created a large demand for copper and other non-ferrous metals over the past several years. Combine that with a weakening dollar, and the price of copper has skyrocketed over the past eight years from about 80 cents per pound to more than $3.50 per pound.

The dramatic increase in copper prices has not gone unnoticed by criminals and preventing copper theft has become one of the biggest contemporary challenges facing businesses worldwide. Despite the severity of the copper theft problem, no federal or state agency has yet to gather statistical data on the crime. The common opinion, however, is that utility companies, along with various home and commercial builders, have been some of the hardest hit industries by the copper theft epidemic.

“Anywhere they can find copper, they’re taking it,” says Jeff Wilson, a spokesman for Georgia Power, who adds that losses due to copper theft have increased more than 350 percent in the past two years.
“It’s coming off poles, it’s coming off transformers, it’s coming off of construction sites, just anywhere it’s at,” adds Philip Peacock, investigations supervisor for Georgia Power. Peacock says the perpetrators are predominantly removing the grounding copper wire from their substations.

The company has begun replacing copper wire with steel-clad wire in various locations throughout the state to help reduce thefts, according to Wilson. Georgia Power has also started marking their wire to make it easily identifiable to recyclers.

The biggest challenge in combating the problem, according to Peacock, is that being such a large utility company, they have numerous locations spread out across Georgia. Peacock said that they keep all of their facilities locked and lit up at night, but that sometimes isn’t enough to ward off brazen thieves.

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