Peninsula utilities specifically hit by copper thieves

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

Copper wire has been stolen from four electrical substations on the North Olympic Peninsula in the past two months, all at about the same time and seemingly in the same manner.

Roughly two months ago — the end of June or beginning of July — thieves made off with copper grounding wire, one of the various safety measures built into electrical equipment, from three substations in Clallam County and one in Jefferson County.

Theft of such wire, multiple electrical utility officials have said, could prove fatal.

‘Very dangerous’

“It could easily kill a person,” said Port Angeles Light Operations Manager Jim Klarr in a Friday interview.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to do.”

One facility that was burglarized is owned by the city of Port Angeles, two by the Clallam County Public Utility District and one by the Jefferson County Public Utility District.

In all four thefts, the fence locks surrounding the substations were not damaged, meaning the fences either were scaled or climbed over.

Port Angeles Deputy Chief Brian Smith could not say Friday if the city’s police were investigating the city’s substation theft as it related to the other three.

“I’d have to dive into those cases to see if there’s a connection there,” Smith said.

Smith and Ron Cameron, chief criminal deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, said both Clallam County substation thefts remain under investigation.

City substation

Klarr said Friday that thieves crawled under the fences of the city’s electrical substation at the intersection of Washington and Second streets and stole about $800 worth of grounding wire.

Replacement costs more than that because of the hours needed to do the work, he added.

City crews shut down the station to replace the ground wire and install more secure fencing, Klarr said, adding that no city residents were affected because other substations picked up the electrical load.

In addition to the substation wire theft, Klarr said the city has had about $1,500 worth of grounding wire stolen from 150 power poles across the city in the past year.

“As a matter of fact, we’ve been hit pretty hard,” Klarr said.

Klarr said these thefts put both the public and those doing the stealing in danger because they remove a safety feature designed to divert electricity away from people and buildings during an electrical surge or other malfunction.

PUD substations

Also roughly two months ago, thieves stole copper wire from the Agnew and Deer Park substations owned by the Clallam PUD.

Copper wire also was stolen from a milelong stretch of Clallam PUD-owned power poles along Deer Park Road.

Clallam PUD spokesman Michael Howe estimated at the time that the repairs cost about $20,000.

The locks on the substation fences were not touched, Howe said then, meaning the thieves either went over or under the barbed-wire fences.

The Clallam PUD substation incident mirrors a copper wire theft at a fourth substation in early July, this time at the Jefferson PUD substation in Discovery Bay.

Kevin Streett, Jefferson PUD electrical superintendent, said the theft of copper grounding wire from the station necessitated repairs that forced the station to be turned off for the better part of a day.

Streett said he did not have a cost estimate readily available Friday.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 07. 2013 4:37PM
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