by SUSAN MANN
When copper prices soar farmers need to keep an eye on their solar panel installations because thieves have been stealing the panels’ copper wires.
Sgt. Steve Montpetit, rural agricultural crime team coordinator for the Ontario Provincial Police, says thefts of copper have been an ongoing problem across province. Thieves target not only wires in solar installations but also old telegraph lines on railways, copper plumbing pipes in unsecured new home construction and wires in hydro transformer stations.
“Every one of our regions have had issues with copper wire thefts,” he notes.
Montpetit says the frequency of the thefts fluctuate with copper prices. When copper hits $3.50 to $4 a pound thefts increase but decline when copper prices slide to $2 or $3 a pound. According to a Chicago Mercantile Exchange report, copper reached about US$3.74 per pound at the end of September.
The provincial police do catch copper wire thieves “but it’s a revolving door,” he says. “It’s copper wire thefts so nobody looks at it with any significance.”
But the provincial police take the thefts seriously. Montpetit says thieves damaging hydro transformer stations to steal copper could result in power outages or people being electrocuted.
Hydro One spokesperson Nancy Shaddick says entering Hydro’s transformer yards without proper equipment and training is “extremely dangerous.” In fact, a thief was severely burned stealing copper from a transformer station in Toronto at the end of July.
The police have worked extensively with Hydro One to develop strategies to deter thieves. They’ve also developed communication posters for scrap metal dealers to alert them so they’ll be on the look out for the stolen wires and to inform them they’re receiving stolen goods.
Shaddick declined to say what deterrents Hydro One is using for security reasons. But “our security measures are helping to reduce the impact of copper thefts from our stations.”
The corporation is also working with Crime Stoppers to raise awareness about metal thefts. People can call anonymously to report thieves at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Copper is important for grounding high voltage equipment, she says.
Montpetit notes that the theft of solar panels in Middlesex County earlier this year was unrelated to the copper wire thefts and was an isolated incident. From August to October thieves made off with 41 panels valued at $30,000 in incidents on properties near Delaware.
“It was almost as if it was a crime of opportunity,” Montpetit says. “They targeted these solar panels. They took them in a short amount of time. It wasn’t something that occurred over a six or nine-month period.”
The thieves had a certain amount of expertise and intimate knowledge of the panels to steal them. But Montpetit says police don’t know why the panels were taken.
Montpetit, says he checked with sergeants on the OPP’s rural crime team in the five areas they’re located in – Thunder Bay, North Bay, Smith Falls, Peterborough and Chatham – and solar panel thefts aren’t a problem in other parts of the province. BF