Thieves are cutting down hydro lines and stealing wiring from utility poles to try to get at copper wire to resell as scrap.
The theft of wiring is a “serious concern” for Hamilton’s hydro utility, says a spokesman, with incidents happening fairly frequently and costing thousands to repair.
Hamilton police’s discovery of a man who allegedly cut wire from multiple utility poles around Barton Street East on Sunday is the latest example of what one industry expert calls a “big issue” in the city.
'Our biggest concern is for safety – our crews and thieves themselves.' - Larry Roberts, Horizon Utilities
Larry Roberts of Horizon Utilities said cutting hydro lines happens “fairly frequently”.
“It’s a serious concern for us because we do have to spend money on repairing or replacing,” he said.
Roberts said Horizon is inconvenienced because they have to take crews away from other construction or maintenance projects to do these repairs, causing delays.
President of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario Dan Lancia said he’s received close to five calls this past year about stolen hydro wires throughout the city at his Hamilton-based company Holaco Installations Ltd.
People cut cables for the copper wires, he said, adding that copper typically sells for between $2.50 and $3.50 a pound.
“It’s not like they’re making hundreds and hundreds of dollars,” Lancia said. “But I guess they are when you take into consideration that they’re doing this numerous times at numerous locations.”
While Lancia has been called to repair lines across the city, he said they’re usually in remote areas where there isn’t much traffic.
A repair to a cut line typically costs $10,000 with anywhere from $100 to $200 worth of resalable copper being derived from that theft, he said.
But Lancia said one repair his company did – located at a sub-station with a 230,000-volt line – cost $35,000.
Both Roberts and Lancia warned about the dangerous scenario people put themselves in when they choose to cut live wires.
“Our biggest concern is for safety – our crews and thieves themselves,” Roberts said.
Roberts said people might think they’re stealing ground wires, which are there to ensure the system functions properly, that end up being live wires that could shock or kill them.
“Other people could come by these and get a shock, or the system could be less effective,” Roberts said.
Lancia said he doesn’t think much can be done to prevent these thefts from happening, but he has been hired to install cameras in some locations.
“If they come back, what are they going to do?” he said.
Bear Unit investigates
Hamilton police’s Break and Enter, Autotheft and Robbery (BEAR) unit investigates when copper wire is cut and stolen from hydro lines.
In June, a 61-year-old Hamilton man was arrested and charged with theft under $5,000 and mischief endangering life after cutting hydro lines on Delaware Avenue.
Last April, Hamilton police caught two men in possession of cut hydro lines in the Barton Street East and Grosvenor Area.
Back in 2009, a Burlington Street copper wire theft caused a hydro outage for 6,000 Horizon Utilities customers.