Energy Providers Feel The Heat As Copper Wire Thefts Soar

Sydney Morning Herald

Monday July 7, 2008

Paul Bibby

STEALING from electricity providers has become one of the fastest-growing forms of theft in NSW. The soaring price of copper is enticing thieves into increasingly brazen and foolhardy acts in their quest for electrical wire.

Despite increased security at power stations and higher penalties for people entering them illegally, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures show that theft from electricity utilities has increased dramatically since 2005.

Between April 2007 and March 2008 there were 247 recorded incidents of theft on property owned by electricity providers, compared with just 115 incidents between April 2005 and March 2006.

The number of break and enter offences at these properties tripled over the same period, and incidents of other theft increased from 41 to 123. The increase had had a significant financial affect on the three main providers: Energy Australia, Integral Energy and Country Energy.

Energy Australia lost $630,000 as a direct result of theft in the last financial year, and an additional $600,000 in indirect costs, and Integral has been forced to spend $25 million upgrading its security fencing.

The electricity providers say a large proportion of the incidents involve the theft of copper wire, reflecting a rise in global copper prices to $8000 a tonne, though the thieves are also taking tools and equipment.

"What we have seen is that thieves are going to greater extremes to steal copper, including live line thefts which are potentially fatal," a spokeswoman from Energy Australia said.

Integral Energy lost $449,000 because of copper thefts last financial year, compared with $226,000 the year before.

The three utilities recently joined forces in an effort to curb the incidence of theft, forming the NSW Utilities Copper Theft Security Committee. The State Government has amended the Electricity Supply Act to provide greater penalties for people entering power stations illegally.

The utilities are also co-operating with police, State Rail and other public utilities through the "Copper theft - don't cop it" campaign.

But Justin Pennings, a leading hand electrical fitter mechanic from Integral, said thieves seemed to have become increasingly brazen.

"A few months ago we were out on a job and there's five fellas, four of them with rolls of cable and a guy with a trolley full of the stuff, walking down the main street of Windsor in broad daylight," Mr Pennings said.

"They ended up picking them up waiting to get a train to the scrap metal yard. It's a sign of the times."

© 2008 Sydney Morning Herald

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