Wire theft has been an increasing problem in recent years, as the price of copper has gone up.
This kind of theft costs the people of B.C. millions of dollars a year, but most importantly, it impacts their safety. Wire thieves often target roadside lamps standards, usually around major bridges and interchanges. When the sun goes down, drivers can quickly find themselves in the dark, which can create a safety hazard.
And it’s not just motorists who can get hurt by this criminal activity. These wires may carry dangerous levels of electricity and, ironically, a number of would-be-thieves have been injured or killed cutting the wrong wire. Thieves may leave live wires exposed; creating serious risk for everyone, so it’s smart to stay clear of any uncovered wires or downed cables.
So what are we doing about the problem? A lot, as it turns out. In fact, we’re trying several different approaches to find solutions.
1. In some areas, we’re replacing the wire with a special armored version that’s harder for thieves to take and sell. And then we’re burying it. With the wire underground, it takes more time and effort to dig out, which also increases a thief’s chance of being caught.
2. In other areas, we’ve installed motion detection cameras at prime target locations. When the devices detect movement, the cameras record what’s going on and feed the images to a monitoring station. Last year’s pilot project resulted in two arrests, and the program is being expanded this year.
3. Another way we’re tackling the problem is by replacing copper wiring with less expensive aluminum. In the past, aluminum was seen as inferior, and it wasn’t used in our electrical infrastructure. But times and materials change, and aluminum is now recognized as a safe and effective substitute. Aluminum’s scrap value is about one-tenth the value of copper, making a thief’s efforts far less rewarding. In problem areas, where we’ve replaced the stolen copper with aluminum, we’ve seen thieves cut the wire, realize its aluminum and just walk away and not come back because it’s not worth the risk. Of course, that still disrupts the power, but it leaves much less damage to repair, and we don’t have to replace costly copper wire.
We’re continuing to look at other techniques, to clamp down on wire theft. The RCMP and utility companies share our concerns about the problem, and together we’ve been brainstorming ways to short-circuit wire thieves. We are optimistic all these efforts will go a long way to reduce wire theft, lower costs and keep our electrical systems working properly.
If you happen to be driving and notice lights that should be on, please give our maintenance contractors a call and let them know! It could be wire theft, or it could be a light just burned out.
Either way, they’ll get it fixed. You can find their contact information on our Report a Problem