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Thieves target sub-stations for scrap

Posted by Chris Thompson on 11th May 2010

It used to be the lead from the church roof but theives are targetting sub-stations across the country as a source of scrap copper.

Thieves stole copper wiring from a sub-station in the Westhoughton area of Bolton. This resulted in electrical fires in more than 60 homes after power surges to domestic appliances. Televisions and microwaves were among the items damaged by the surges in the early hours of the morning.

Paul Etches, from Greater Manchester Fire Service, told Sky News: "The calls started at just after 8am reporting smoke and small appliance fires".

The local electricity supplier has switched off the power to 400 homes while engineers carry out repairs.  

This is not the first time this particular sub-station has been targeted by copper thieves. Mark Williamson, from United Utilities, said: "This latest break-in was similar to one carried out in the area 10 days ago. Not only did they risk their own lives, but they put the lives of nearby residents at risk too.”  

It is a problem faced by almost every power supplier and seems to spike at certain times of the year, but with the recession, the frequency of thefts has increased.  

You may think that this is a fairly uncommon event but the price of copper has increased massively since Christmas, and as a result thefts of the metal have shot up across the country, with substations in particular being targeted.  

What the thieves are doing is removing the earthing from the supply network neutral which results in fluctuations in the supply voltage due to changes in load characteristics, which in turn causes voltage surges resulting in damaged equipment and possible fire risk as demonstrated by the events in Bolton.

It’s not just copper that is being stolen. Thieves are also targeting such things as the catalytic converter on your van which can contain metals including Platinum, Palladium or Rhodium. There have also been reports this week of drain covers in Southampton being stolen.

Categories: electrician training