Utility companies see spike in copper thefts

SPOKANE, Wash. - Local utilities companies have seen a jump in copper thefts at their power stations and power poles and technicians say some of the thieves are risking their lives to steal copper wiring.

Problem spots where thieves are stealing copper wiring include Deer Park, Chattaroy and the Elk area. An Avista spokesperson said 4.5 miles of copper wire was stolen in July and August.

In a dangerous move last week someone stole 14 feet of copper wiring from a substation near Spokane Falls Community College. Thieves are putting their lives at risk because there are 13,000 volts running through some of the equipment at these substations.

Avista copper thefts

"It creates safety issues, not only for the crews who have to go and replace the copper wire that has been stolen, but it also can become a public safety issue as well," Avista spokesperson Debbie Simmock said.

It's the fourth time someone has broken into a substation in the Inland Northwest this year.

Stolen copper wire not only means technicians have to go back and replace it but the thefts can cost everyone money.

"The work that our crews and the supplies that go into replacing copper that has been stolen are part of the operating costs of our business. Those operating costs do increase, and have an impact on rates," Simmock said.

One thing Avista is doing is installing metal plates over copper wires to deter criminals. The plates are being secured to the pole with three to five inch screws. They are also trying to replace some copper wires wherever it's possible so that there is less temptation for thieves.

Utility companies ask if you see someone at a power pole or station who doesn't look like they should be there to call 9-1-1.