Copper theft is a serious crime. These thefts can cause power surges, outages, fires, explosions and injuries to co-op workers or innocent people coming into contact with tampered equipment.
On Friday, August 20 between the hours of 10-11PM, Western Iowa Power Cooperative and its power provider, Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative (NIPCO), were victims of copper theft. The vandalism these thieves performed became evident the evening of August 21 and during the early morning hours of August 22. Four distribution substations and one transmission switching station in Monona County were vandalized. In each case, vandals cut through locked gates and mesh fencing to gain access to the substation equipment where they stripped copper grounding wire attached to the electric componentry and system. This resulted in SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) alarms and calls from local passersby, stating they were a witness to electrical arcing/fire and open gates and fencing. While electric power was able to be re-routed to prevent or minimize outages to member-consumers, all sites required extensive repair to restore normal operations. Two substation sites received major damage which will necessitate electric cooperative crews more time to assess and repair.
No personal injuries to any WIPCO or NIPCO crews occurred, and minimal power outages were reported by member-consumers of WIPCO. All power related to this vandalism was restored as of 4:30AM on Sunday, August 22.
In the days following the incident, the thieves were apprehended and charged.
“These thieves risked their lives and the lives of others for a very small return on their ‘investment’ in crime,” said Jeff Bean, Executive Vice President and General manager of WIPCO. “We urge the public that if they see something suspicious to say something. Call our office at 800-253-5189 or call local law enforcement or Crime Stoppers at 800-452-1111 with any information that can lead to the prevention of copper theft.”
Our Membership Can Help Us Prevent Future Theft
For those who commit thefts – whether copper wire or electricity – they endanger both their freedom and life. Thefts can turn deadly as thieves risk electrocution to steal copper from high-voltage equipment.
Tampering with electric equipment can make it unsafe and unstable, as was the case with the recent incidents involving the substations that serve WIPCO members in August. When people steal electricity or materials, they put themselves, their neighbors, family, and pets all at risk for electric shocks, power surges, sparks and fire from exposed voltage. Stealing electrical related materials can also pose a significant risk to the culprit, resulting in injury or even death from exposure to live electricity.
Stealing electricity and materials associated with its generation and delivery is illegal under Iowa law and violates electrical codes. The severity of the theft can also be considered a federal crime.
Keeping power safe and affordable is a priority for WIPCO and its power provider, NIPCO. That is why we routinely inspect cooperative meters and equipment to ensure we’re doing our best to protect you from the risks of electricity and material theft. We take a proactive approach to this serious problem, eliminating theft and reducing related costs.
Our crews, as well as those from NIPCO, will be identified by appropriately logoed clothing and service vehicles in or around our system and when working on our infrastructure. You can also play a role in preventing electric theft or vandalism by immediately notifying us if you suspect someone is gaining access to our power supply without paying their fair share of the costs or by tampering with equipment. If you have information related to electricity or materials theft, please contact us. Rest assured, we’ll keep your name anonymous. Because you share in the ownership of WIPCO, when people steal from the cooperative, they’re stealing from you, too!