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Copper thefts hamstring utlities

POSTED: March 31, 2007 5:13 a.m.
It’s a problem that has become an epidemic in the utility industry. Across the country, increasing incidences of copper theft are met with rising fatalities and outages to thousands of people.
The 42 electric cooperatives in Georgia, including Coastal Electric and Canoochee EMC, and Georgia Electric Membership Corporation are asking the 2007 Georgia General Assembly to give utilities broad power to investigate metal theft cases and to seize any property used in the theft of metals.
 “Not just in Georgia, but all across the United States, copper theft has become rampant,” says Coastal CEO Whit Hollowell.  “There have been several fatalities in the United States and serious burns and injuries in Georgia, all because someone wanted to make a couple hundred dollars off copper.”
“If you think that stealing electric wire is a quick way to earn some easy money, think again,” Hollowell said. “The value of metal is not worth losing a life.”
Aimed at curbing the dangerous trend, Senate Bill 203 increases the penalties for metals theft and grants utility employees, including Coastal and Canoochee’s, broad powers to investigate theft cases with scrap metal dealers.  
Sponsored by 10 Republican senators, SB 203 passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee on March 1 with a unanimous vote.
The proposed legislation contains three main points:
1. allows for the seizure of any property used in the theft of metals (i.e. tools, vehicles, etc.),
2. allows an appointed person from a utility to have the right to inspect any and all purchased regulated metal property.  
3. increases the penalty for metals theft to a felony.
In addition to combating metals theft through legislation, the cooperatives, GEMC and other stakeholders are spearheading an educational effort to advise prosecutors, sheriffs, chiefs of police, county commissioners and mayors about the magnitude of the problem.
“Senate Bill 203 is about protecting the public’s safety and controlling the spiraling costs associated with metals theft,” said Dusty James, CEO of Canoochee.
Copper theft burdens cooperative consumers because it hits the cooperatives’ bottom line. Rising copper costs are deemed responsible for the increase in thefts, most of which occur at night at electric substations or new subdivisions and building sites.
Copper theft can also be deadly. According to Safe Electricity as recently as November, more than 15 states reported at least one fatality. Nevada reporting a record 43 break-ins resulting in injuries at substations across the state in the last month. Authorities in Detroit are still trying to find the identity of a man found electrocuted beneath a power line on Nov. 8. He was burned beyond recognition.
“Stealing material from an electric substation or utility pole can cause not only serious injuries and death, but extensive outages, fires and explosions. Those area all consequences that impact innocent people,” Safe Electricity Executive Director Molly Hall said. “The minimum damage that can occur is an outage, which may affect thousands of individuals.”
 

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