JONESBORO, AR -- Copper theft; it's a steal only worth a few bucks, but it could be costing you much more.
Each time copper is stolen from an electric company, either at a substation or from an electric pole, it costs thousands of dollars to make a repair. And it's a repair that's costly and risky for all involved.
"With the copper prices increasing and stuff, a lot of people are stealing the copper to go and resale it, and it's really increased here in the last few months," says Monty Williams with Craighead Electric.
Williams says just last week their crews were sent out to repair 2 different areas. One incident near Walcott is where a Greene County man was stealing copper from an electric pole when it snapped and caused a live wire to fall. He was electrocuted. A few days later in Marmaduke, a substation was broken into and many pounds of copper were stolen.
"The substation at Marmaduke ended up costing us $2500 dollars in time and labor and there was probably only 2 to 300 dollars worth of copper that was missing," says Williams.
Copper theft is becoming more common, but it's catching the actual thieves that are not.
In the most recent Arkansas Legislative Session, 3 separate bills were passed to stiffen the penalties for copper thieves and require better bookkeeping by scrap metal recyclers. However, that's only if the thieves are caught and if they're alive to face the penalties. Otherwise, the electric companies are still out money and that could mean you are too.
"It's coming out of our rate payers pocket. It's one of those costs that we have to cover," says Williams.
And that's a cost that rings up to thousands of dollars each time a repair is made, all for a few bucks worth of copper.
"You have to turn the power off and put the wires back up. It takes several hours and people are going to be without power for several hours to make all those repairs and it's just an inconvenience," adds Williams.