Copper Wire Thefts Plague SMECO - Southern Maryland Headline News

Copper Wire Thefts Plague SMECO

CALIFORNIA, Md. (March 9, 2011) — Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) has been significantly impacted with thefts of copper wire from its electric distribution system in the tri-county area. Cooperative officials believe the root cause of the thefts is the current economic depression.

SMECO is offering a reward of up to $5,000, through Crime Solvers of Charles County, for information leading to the arrest or indictment of the thieves. A $1,000 reward is also available through Crime Solvers of St. Mary's County.

Austin J. Slater, Jr., SMECO President and CEO, says individuals who steal copper wire from the electric utility are not just stealing from SMECO-they are stealing from every customer-member.

"As owners of the cooperative, the cost of replacing the stolen copper, the cost of the manpower needed to repair damaged systems, and the cost of increased security is reflected in the electric bill of every customer on the system. The damage can also cause power interruptions and endanger lives. Stealing wire from the electric system is illegal and it can be deadly," said Slater.

The main instances of theft locally have been of neutral wires on poles and in electric substations. Electric systems are built to provide safe pathways to carry electricity. Removing the neutral wire is dangerous and creates a potential for outages.

"When someone cuts the neutral wire, it interrupts the path of electricity and that person can be the next best path to the ground," said Mike Nygaard, SMECO's Job Training and Safety Director. "Even though it is a neutral wire, it is a current-carrying conductor. When the wire is cut and the flow of current is broken, electric service may be disrupted and people may be injured. For a couple of dollars, it's not worth it."

Stealing wire and equipment from utility facilities is dangerous for thieves. Stealing equipment may also affect electric service and cause power outages, surges, or fires. "The thieves are creating a weakness in the system that could cause problems down the line, including public safety issues and power outages," said Nygaard.

Nygaard added, "If the wire were removed and then a tree fell on the line, voltage would have to find another path and could travel through a pole or guy wires. Voltage could even electrify the ground around the pole, endangering the public and SMECO employees who come into contact with the area."

If you have information that can help SMECO and Crime Solvers stop local electric copper wire theft, please call 1-866-411-TIPS (8477) for Charles County, or 301-475-3333 for St. Mary's County, to report a tip. All tipsters remain anonymous. The Crime Solvers Board of Directors, comprised of citizen volunteers, determines the value of the information based on each case.

10-MAR-2011: Added $1,000 reward offered by St. Mary's Crime Solvers.

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