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Copper wire thefts cutting power, costing electric company big money

The theft of copper wire from utility lines has cost Valley Electric Association and their members approximately $100,000, officials announced at a regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday.

Those thefts, association officials said, are also directly related to two power outages on the 138-line over the past couple of months. Two incidents were identified by Valley Electric personnel of energized lines that had been pulled directly off utility poles.

One of those broken lines, Line Superintendent Marty Lytle said, had 80 amps running through it. Rain and moisture caused that line to short, he said.

To minimize theft and prevent injury risk to association personnel and other unsuspecting individuals or animals of exposed live wires, Valley Electric has been systematically replacing the copper wire with copper-plated steel cord. The replacement cord, according to Lytle, has no real value.

“It’s like a heavy-duty barbed wire,” he said.

The replacement material did not initially deter thieves, Lytle said. Following installation of the new material, approximately two miles of line were torn down between Lathrop and Valley Switch. The vandals must have realized the material was not the copper wire they were after, according to Lytle, so they simply cut and left it.

Those torn down, or cut, “ungrounded” wires present a risk for severe injury to people or animals as well as disruption in service to customer homes and businesses, Lytle said.

Countless man hours, as well as new materials, have been invested in the replacement project. Company officials said that more than 15 miles of line have been replaced with the new material, so far this year. Signage has also been installed, they said, indicating that copper is no longer used in the utility wires, as part of the proactive approach to prevent further vandalism and theft.

Officials said that the Beatty community has been largely unaffected. However, Pahrump, Sandy Valley and Amargosa have been targeted.

Valley Electric District 2 Director Shiela Rau said that when the lines are vandalized, the criminals are stealing from each and every member. “It’s a personal loss to each of us,” she said. She encourages the public to report any signs that indicate vandalism or theft to law enforcement or the association office.

Valley Electric officials said that employees are not the only personnel who work on the utility lines. Occasionally, contractors work on poles, towers and rights of way. All association employees or contractors will be outfitted with safety gear, including work uniforms. Legitimate workers will also be using industrial vehicles such as bucket trucks and cranes. They will not be wearing obvious non-work clothing such as shorts, tank-tops or skirts, officials said.

Valley Electric also encourages the public to report any loose or hanging wires, as well as any other utility equipment that appears damaged or out of place.

Nye County Sheriff Tony Demeo reported that only one arrest relating to copper wire theft has been made in the past several months. On Oct. 29, an arrest was made in the Stewart Valley area. The suspect, DeMeo said, was charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property.

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