The Salt River Project utility company lost an estimated $5 million in 2011 because of copper thefts from company equipment.
The actual value of the copper stolen was slightly less than $50,000, but company spokesman Jeff Lane said repair and replacement costs can triple because of the damage thieves do to equipment while stealing the copper wire.
"It has to be completely rebuilt in most cases," says SRP Security Chief Jay Spradling. "If they take an underground grounding wire it has to be retrenched, reburied, reassembled and all that."
That $5 million lost to copper thieves represents 5 percent of SRP's rate hike, which goes into effect in November. A 3.9 percent increase in rates is expected to generate an additional $100 million for the non-profit public utility.
The company, however, is taking steps to curtail the number of thefts. For instance, much of the copper wire utilized in power substations as grounding wire is painted a gritty and distinct blue color to discourage local salvage yards from purchasing it.
"Yeah, we've got a lot of copper painted blue out there," Spradling said.
Spradling and his security team are constantly searching for innovative techniques and technologies to implement. One measure currently being considered involves a product called Data Dots, which is a spray-on labeling system which leaves microscopic numbers on an item you want stamped.
Another product being researched by SRP is called copper clad, which is a steel-based conductive wire that has no value to thieves.
The number of copper related thefts involving SRP has increased steadily over the past three years, Spradling said. He said the volume and frequency of the thefts can be tied directly to the market price of copper, which has fluctuated greatly over the past several years.
Spradling expects that the number of copper thefts will decline overall when 2012 comes to a close.
SRP also partners with Silent Witness and anyone who offers a tip that leads to the arrest and conviction of a copper thief will be eligible for a $10,000 reward.
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