Surveillance photos were released of a man suspected of stealing copper wire from a CenterPoint Energy power plant on Tomball Parkway last month. When police arrived, they discovered the fence had been cut and copper wire and parts had been stolen.
John Kellum is Veep of CenterPoint's High Voltage Power Delivery Group. He says copper thieves create safety hazards for others, when they cut fences and leave open, secure and energized facilities.
"Wire theft is not only a crime, but it can also create a public safety issue. Wire thieves are not only putting themselves in great danger of electrocution, but they're possibly risking the welfare of everyone in the area, by tampering with electrical facilities that maybe serving hospitals, 911 phone systems, traffic signals, railroad crossings, and other safety and health facilities."
Kellum says the theft of one hundred dollars of copper wire, can cost the utility $5,000 dollars in necessary repairs, a cost that is passed on to customers. Kellum says residents don't have to be CenterPoint customers to help stem the theft of electrical wire.
"We're asking the community to be our eyes and ears, and report any suspicious activity. We're asking the community to call the Houston Police Department, or CenterPoint Energy immediately if they notice anything unusual with electric substations or facilities, such as open substation gates, hanging wires, or suspicious personnel around electrical facilities. Call 9-1-1 immediately, if you see someone attempting to cut wire near power lines, or entering a substation."
Houston Police Assistant Chief George Buenik says in the first ten months of this year, the HPD received over 2700 reports of metal theft. The most frequent item stolen is copper wire, followed by air conditioning units. Besides those two items, the Depatment's Metal Theft Unit recovered stolen pipes, brass fittings, iron gates, batteries and cemetery brass name plates. Chief Buenik says MTU also keeps track of the city's 116 scrap metal yards.
"However in the first ten months of this year, the Metal Theft Unit has written 196 citations at 23 different locations. There were nine different scrap yard businesses that were cited for operating without a license. The most frequent violation is not keeping proper records."
In the past few years, copper prices have more than quadrupled along with other scrap metal. The Department of Energy estimates that copper theft is responsible for $1 billion worth of property damage every single year.