Copper thieves hitting local utility companies hard

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT)- Copper thieves are getting wired off utility companies. Recent thefts have cost Craighead Electric Cooperative Corporation thousands of dollars in repairs. And apparently, they're not alone.

"It's statewide. Entergy is being hit, all the co-ops around us are being hit. People are stealing and stealing and stealing," said Safety Compliant Officer Charlie Layne with Craighead Electric Cooperative.

Layne says over the past year, over $100,000 in system damages stems from copper theft. Miles and miles of neutral wire was stolen off electrical poles throughout the county, as well as breaking into the sub-stations to retrieve copper. Damages, Layne says, could put their employees at risk.

"We could have had fatalities because of the copper theft that has taken place inside our sub-stations. We have people that are coming in and cutting the fences and cutting the grounds off of our electrical equipment. When they do that, the tank of that equipment can become energized," said Layne, "which could pack as much as 10,000 volts."

Layne says it's a trend they've seen even more of in the winter months.

"It's a secluded road. They come here after dark. In the winter months, there's no bugs, no snakes. If they see any headlights coming, they can just turn their vehicle off and nobody would ever notice them," said Layne.

And the fact that the crooks are able to do this unharmed, they're pretty knowledgeable about what they're looking at.

"Anytime they start stealing that wire, they're at risk, but they know that the top wire is the killer," said Layne.

He says it's become such a problem statewide that a new state law was passed making theft from an electric company a Class D Felony, whether it be two inches or $2,000 worth of wire.

"Whoever is buying it knows that it's stolen because there's nobody other than an electric company that would have this kind of conductor," said Layne.

But the biggest concern for citizens, will the damages have an effect on consumer rates?

"Probably not short term, but who knows if it keeps continuing down the road," said Layne.

Layne says the biggest things citizens can do, especially those in rural areas, is to keep an eye out. If they notice anything suspicious, contact local authorities.

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