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Copper Theft: Still a Threat

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

Graphic illustration of a theif with a flashlight in front of an electrical substation.

A few years ago, we heard a lot about copper being stripped out of vacant buildings and homes just being built. Power lines and electric cooperative substations in rural areas were hot targets, too. That’s back when the price of copper was high, as much as $4.50 to $4.75 per pound.

While the price has dropped to the $2.70 to $2.80 range, copper thefts are still occurring. We just don’t hear as much about the thefts.

Why is copper important? Copper corrodes slowly, is malleable, ductile, and a good conductor of electricity and heat. Because of its features, it is used in:

  • Electrical wiring and motors

  • Roofing, gutters and rainspouts

  • Plumbing

  • Fiber optics, cell towers, emergency sirens, irrigation systems, airport control towers and rail lines

It’s important to electric cooperatives because copper is used to ground equipment, protecting it from electrical surges and lightning. Copper wire is used in substations and in neighborhood transformers, to step down high-voltage electricity before it goes through power lines to your home or business.

What happens when thieves steal copper? Of course, that depends on where the thief is operating.

  • If the thief is attempting to access power lines or high voltage electrical equipment, that person is in great danger of electrocution.

  • The theft of a small amount of copper can cause extensive damage to equipment, costing utilities or building owners thousands or millions of dollars in repairs and replacement.

  • Pulling copper from an electrical system can also cause widespread power outages to households and businesses.

  • Missing ground wires can energize components that normally are safe; anyone who comes in contact with those dangerous components may be injured or killed.

What your cooperative does to prevent theft

  • Install fences, warning signs, and power