SWEPCO Reports Copper Theft Could Place Safety and Reliability at Risk

  The market for scrap metal is driving a drastic increase in the theft of metal - especially aluminum and copper. AEP (American Electric Power) operating companies in Indiana, Michigan, Virginia and Kentucky report a rise in the theft of electrical equipment, and public fatalities have occurred this year in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia from copper theft. AEP reports that some thieves are even cutting into power lines and other equipment that is energized and serving customers. AEP Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) is asking its customers to report to law enforcement officials any suspicious activity near a utility pole, transmission tower or substation.

According to Malcolm Smoak, vice president of Distribution Region Operations for SWEPCO, this kind of activity has the potential to place public safety at risk. “A complete wiring system helps provide a safer and more reliable source of electricity,” says Smoak. “An element of protection is lost when the design of the electric delivery system is altered in an attempt to get at the metal for resale to a salvage center,” said Smoak.

Smoak emphasizes that if a would-be thief happened to survive contact with an energized cable or device, that person could leave behind a dangerous condition for an innocent passerby. “Connections can be loosened, or energized equipment could be exposed, jeopardizing public safety,” says Smoak.

Many times someone who contacts energized electrical equipment does not survive.

A British Columbia man was electrocuted May 30 when he cut through a high voltage line apparently trying to steal copper wire at a substation. Workers investigating the resulting power outage found the dead man’s body in a normally locked underground junction box. Three people were electrocuted in Kentucky as a result of attempted theft.

While most thieves do their best to avoid detection, some are getting bolder, deliberately posing as utility or construction workers. “Only trained personnel should be in close proximity to power lines or substation equipment,” said Smoak. “It takes years of experience and the need for specialized equipment to work safely in this environment.”

Smoak also noted that when people decide to cut into electrical equipment to scavenge metal, they steal from everyone in the community. Customers could experience interruptions in electric service as a result of a theft of power cables. Another consequence is the potential for damage to sensitive electronic equipment commonly used in homes and businesses such as computers, televisions, air conditioners, and other devices that have electronic equipment.

SWEPCO also reminds customers that the use of surge protection devices on sensitive electronic equipment is a good precaution even when the theft of equipment is not a consideration. Use of an arc fault circuit interrupter (ACFI) or a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) should be used wherever possible. It’s also a good idea to make sure the grounding system in your home is in good condition. Electrical grounding ensures that if there is ever a short circuit on a piece of electrical equipment, current will flow through the ground system and trip a breaker or blow a fuse. SWEPCO recommends contacting a licensed electrician in your area if there are any concerns about the grounding system in your home.

SWEPCO is headquartered in Shreveport, and its 1,546 employees serve more than 454,000 customers in western Arkansas, northwestern Louisiana, and eastern Texas.

SWEPCO is an operating company unit of American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, delivering electricity to more than 5 million customers in 11 states. AEP ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity, owning nearly 36,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the U.S. AEP also owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, a nearly 39,000-mile network that includes more 765 kilovolt extra-high voltage transmission lines than all other U.S. transmission systems combined. AEP’s utility units operate as AEP Ohio, AEP Texas, Appalachian Power (in Virginia and West Virginia), AEP Appalachian Power (in Tennessee), Indiana Michigan Power, Kentucky Power, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, and Southwestern Electric Power Company (in Arkansas, Louisiana and east Texas). American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio, is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2006.

News releases and other information about SWEPCO can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.SWEPCO.com

Scott McCloud
Corporate Communications