Manitoba Hydro asks customers to be vigilant after a spike in copper thefts
Copper thefts cost the utility company $300K in 2015 and the amount of robberies is rising
Manitoba Hydro is asking their customers to keep their eyes open for copper thieves.
The utility services company made the call in the latest issue of the newsletter it sends to customers after seeing a spike in copper thefts, some leading to major power outages.
"We are definitely seeing a bump in the number of incidence and that's obviously always a concern for us," said Scott Powell, public affairs manager at Manitoba Hydro.
In May 2016 there were 12 copper thefts, an increase of 10 from the year before. The following month there were 12 more copper thefts, when in June 2015 there was only five.
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The price tag of the thefts is also high costing $300,000 in 2015 and about $30,000 so far this year. The exact cost of each incident can vary but Manitoba Hydro estimates about $500 per incident including the cost of copper and the replacement or repair.
An increase in thefts can cause major inconveniences, including one in May where thieves cut wire at the Richer-area substation causing 1,200 customers to lose power, Powell said. The thefts can also be extremely dangerous.
"[Manitoba Hydro is worried about] the safety of the thieves themselves, a lot of people don't realize how dangerous it is to cut copper wire and take it out of substations and off poles," Powell said.
"In some cases you don't actually have to touch an energized surface for an electrocution. If the voltage is high enough it can actually arc a certain distance and these thieves, not knowing what's live and what isn't, they are putting themselves at great risk when they do this."
It also puts staff at risk when they have to do repairs, Powell said.
Although some of the thieves are grabbing spools or leftover copper from construction, the most concerning robberies see people cutting through fences and gates to remove grounding rods and other copper in use.
Powell said the burglars are putting themselves in danger to sell the copper for scrap.
"We are working both with law enforcement, and I know they are working with some of the local scrap metal dealers to try and put an end to this but unfortunately it seems to continue to occur," he said.
RCMP said they have not seen a large difference in copper thefts — there were 66 in 2012, 64 in 2015, and 24 so far this year — but their results do not include thefts of equipment which may contain copper, which could explain the difference in numbers from Manitoba Hydro.
RCMP are reminding members of all our communities to report suspicious persons or activities. Residents play an important role in our crime prevention and reduction strategy and are an extension of our officers eyes and ears, RCMP said.
Powell said that's the messages they are sending to Manitoba Hydro customers: "Call police and let them know what you are seeing."