Copper thieves target utility poles

9:15 AM, Apr 22, 2008   |    comments
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As the Minneapolis police officer assigned to problem properties, Rich Jackson has watched the particular problem of copper theft grow. From a bust last month, where police found 6,000 pounds of stolen copper, to a house explosion a couple of weeks later, when would-be thieves cut through a gas line, the problem has spread. And now, thieves are stealing copper from utility poles. "Now, apparently, people are stealing the copper straight from the poles," Jackson said. "It's a new source of revenue for people who do this type of work." The city says Xcel Energy has noticed copper ground wire disappearing from poles in alleys and along some streets. These wires don't actually carry the electricity you use. Their purpose is to handle electricity that's unexpected. When lightning strikes power poles, that copper ground wire carries the surge into the earth. If the wire's not there, the pole absorbs the lighting strike. "All of that power has to go someplace," Jackson said. Without ground wire, the pole could collapse and cause a power outage in whatever building is connected to it. One piece of copper wire alone isn't worth all that much, but lots of copper adds up. One pound of the in-demand metal now fetches as much as four dollars at a scrap yard. "They can come here, cut a line, turn it in, maybe get 20 or 30 bucks," Jackson said. "Well that's a hit of meth, a hit of crack, couple of bags of marijuana." And in tough economic times, thieves are looking for easy money. Xcel Energy said it is replacing the ground wires as it discovers poles that are missing the wires. And instead of replacing them with something that immediately would be stolen again, Xcel is now using copper-clad wires, which the company says have "little to no value" one the open market. (Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

By Scott Goldberg, KARE 11 News

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(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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