The City of Surrey, B.C., says it will replace all copper wire connecting its streetlights in order to curtail an epidemic of metal theft.

City Coun. Barinder Rasode says Surrey has spent $3.5 million over the past two years on repairing damage from copper wire theft. That total does not account for policing costs, staff time that could be spent elsewhere, or the inconvenience of blackouts caused by theft.

Now the city is planning to spend $9 million on replacing all copper wire in its streetlights with a compound alloy that is 90 per cent less valuable. Moreover, the insulation that will cover the new alloy will be nearly impossible to burn off without damaging the metal, making it useless to thieves.

"Wire theft is a significant problem, and putting $9 million into a preventative solution to make sure that we're not disrupting emergency service and have a solution that ultimately leads to eliminating wire theft, I think, is an excellent investment," said Rasode.

"Copper theft has become quite easy, and they have turned it into a bit of a science. So we just wanted to be able to pull out the rug from under the thieves and say this is no longer happening in Surrey."

Langley targeted by metal thieves

On Tuesday, Langley RCMP appealed to the public for help in identifying whomever is responsible for a damaging copper wire theft earlier this month.

Thieves apparently chopped down two power poles and opened three attached electrical transformers, and stole the contents inside, on the 5700 block of Production Way on Feb. 16.

BC Hydro estimates the cost of damage and repairs to be greater than $75,000.

The province passed legislation in July 2012 aimed at curbing rampant metal theft in B.C. Utility companies have said the legislation has been effective, but metal theft remains a costly problem.

A recent staff report says Surrey is the first city in North America to get rid of its copper wire. It could take up to a year for the project to be completed. 

With files from the CBC's Steve Lus