Copper thieves have not only targeted live power lines, but in recent months have taken transformers from Detroit Edison utility poles. Both practices are not only illegal, but extremely dangerous.
"We have to put a stop to copper thievery," said Michael Lynch, DTE Energy chief security officer. "This is a dangerous activity for the people stealing copper, but also for the people affected by power outages caused by copper theft. As recently as last week we had 4,000 feet of power lines stolen from one location alone."
DTE Energy is raising to $2,500 from $1,000 the amount it will pay for information leading to the arrest of people stealing copper. In addition, the company will pay $5,000, up from $2,500, for information leading to the arrest of people buying stolen copper.
The number of copper theft incidents this year is keeping pace with 2007's record incident rate, but what has increased dramatically is the number of transformers being stolen, Lynch said. Last year, Detroit Edison experienced nearly 250 incidents of thieves taking copper from Detroit Edison power lines and equipment.
"The danger and service reliability factors associated with copper theft makes this a substantial problem, Lynch said. "Thefts are progressing in frequency, blatancy, danger and even death, as we've witnessed in the last several months."
While a majority of the thefts have occurred in the Detroit area, copper cable theft is a growing problem across the state and across the country.
Both the Detroit City Council and the Michigan Legislature has acted to try to stem the tide of copper thefts. The City Council amended an ordinance to place stricter regulations on scrap metal dealers and scrap iron and metal processors, while the state legislature placed tougher penalties on certain entities caught buying or selling stolen copper cable. However, thefts have continued to rise as the local economy has soured.