copper grounding wire encased in protective plastic

Historically speaking, copper has never been cheap. Flexibility and ability to conduct heat and electricity have always kept this metal in demand for a variety of applications.

When there is demand, prices go up. And when an expensive commodity like copper is part of installations on unguarded roadsides, theft may occur.

This has been the case with the inclusion of copper on electric poles in the United States, especially over the last 20 years. Below, we answer some common questions about copper wire theft.

# 1: Why do electricity poles have copper?

Electricity poles are usually 50 ft installations with several parts, such as power, phone and cable wires, lightning arrestors, transformers, etc. To see an interesting deconstruction of their many parts, click here.

At the bottom of these poles, there are copper `grounds’, which are protective pieces of equipment that direct electricity to earth.

So, if there was a problem with equipment on the pole, the copper grounds with attract the electricity electricity (because they are a conductive material), which would then safely pass to the earth.

# 2: What is scrap copper stolen from electricity poles used for?

You can melt down and recycle scrap copper over and over again. Used in a variety of applications, such as manufacturing computers, industrial machinery, and construction material, there is always a ready market for scrap copper wires and people who will pay a decent amount of money for it.

# 3: How is it stolen?

Typically, thieves will cut cables into manageable lengths of 2-6 feet using a bolt cutter, ax, or saw. They then remove the outer sheathing made of plastic, which frees up the cluster of copper wires encased inside.

# 4: Is it legal to buy stolen scrap copper?

Absolutely not. If the buyer is aware that the material was stolen, they may face legal consequences. Many states, in fact, require scrap dealers to keep stringent records of where their goods come from, and failure to be transparent can result in penalties.

# 5: Why is stealing copper from electricity poles dangerous?

Tampering with energized electrical equipment means there is always an extremely high risk of electrocution. Young people and small-time law breakers often commit this crime. They usually don’t understand how the system works and can end up seriously burned, injured, or even killed.

And the danger isn’t just to the thieves themselves. They leave behind unprotected, highly energized crime scenes that are risky for the public and utility workers as well after the copper wires have been cut away.

# 6: How does copper theft from electricity poles affect the public?

First of all, the theft increases repair and maintenance costs for utility companies. The higher cost passes down to consumers. Then there are service disruptions that occur because of it. Airport runways can shut down, traffic lights can stop functioning, and hospitals can experience outages. Service interruption can occur in your homes, too, and you can suddenly find yourself without basic services like internet.

# 7: How can you help utility companies fight this crime?

Copper thieves target not just electric poles but electric substations, construction sites, and storage yards. If you notice any suspicious activity, such as an open substation gate, open equipment, hanging wire, etc., report immediately on AEP’s (American Electric Power) hotline: 1-866-747-5845.

Your call could save lives.