Thieves risking lives for copper cables

ORILLIA, ONTARIO - Thieves stealing copper cables from electrical substations are risking deadly shock and putting the safety of power company employees and the general public in serious jeopardy, says David Hawkins, generation superintendent with Orillia Power.

"I'm really afraid somebody's going to get killed. The shock can blow people apart."

Induced by the high price of copper, thieves have cut and removed cables used to ground equipment and surrounding fences at six of the city's dozen high voltage substations.

"We go to a great expense to ground all components of our substations and somebody comes along and defeats that whole safety net," said John Mattinson, president of Orillia Power.

"Our biggest concern is public endangerment."

Under certain circumstances a person touching a protective fence around a substation could be electrocuted if the copper ground wires have been removed, said Mattinson.

If an insulator failed, it's possible an ungrounded fence could become electrified, said Mattinson.

"The current could be lethal."

The power company replaces stolen ground wires as soon as the theft is discovered, usually in a matter of days, said Mattinson.

"All of our people are continually looking out for this."

Copper, now selling as scrap for more than $3 a pound, has been targeted by thieves at construction sites, storage yards and any other place it can be readily stolen.

"You can't leave it lying around — it's like gold," said Hawkins.

The Electrical Safety Association describes copper theft as the fastest growing crime in Canada.

Hydro One reported 216 theft incidents in 2007 and 192 in 2006.

Twenty-six people have been killed in the U. S. trying to steal copper wire from electrical installations.

So far, one person has been killed in Ontario in January of this year.

Mattinson says the local power company will increase security at substations and will begin using a special technique to mark and identify any cable used in its operation.

With the risks involved, Mattinson hopes the courts in passing sentence will treat this kind of theft severely.

Residents are advised to report any suspicious activity around electrical substations to the police.


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