Copper wire and equipment containing copper and other metals are being stolen at an increasing rate nationwide, and Tennessee Valley Authority sites in Northeast Tennessee are no exception.
Eleven TVA sites northeast of Knoxville, including Boone, Watauga and Cherokee dams as well as the John Sevier Fossil plant and the surrounding substations and switch yards that support these facilities have been hit.
“The copper is used for grounding wire, and it’s used in everyone of those facilities,” Scott Brooks, a TVA spokesman, said from Knoxville Wednesday. “It’s happening everywhere, even at local power companies.”
Officials say theft has been on the rise because the resale value of these metals has risen in recent years. But the losses not only impact TVA financially, they also can hurt their ability to provide reliable power.
The federal agency has reported that crooks are using new tactics to obtain the metals. In an effort to curb thefts of copper and other materials, investigators and officers with the TVA Police are finding new resources in the neighborhoods around TVA’s properties — the neighbors themselves.
“We have security measures in place to deter people from stealing copper and other materials from our sites, but we can’t be everywhere,” said David Jolley, TVA Police and physical security vice president.
TVA officers are going door to door to ask residents living near TVA’s switch yards, substations and construction areas to help keep watch on the properties and let TVA know about any suspicious activity, especially at night.
“We have security measures in place to deter people from stealing copper and other materials from our sites, but we can’t be everywhere,” Jolley said. “We have received tips and information from neighbors that have already helped us recover stolen items and solve cases. If someone steals copper wire meant to ground electrical lines, it can cause the substation to shut down, which would disrupt power to the surrounding area.”
TVA continues to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases of suspected theft from TVA property.
In early December, a contract employee in Alabama pleaded guilty to federal charges of theft and conspiracy after he was arrested for stealing copper from a substation at Wheeler Dam in August 2010. As part of the plea, the suspect agreed to repay TVA more than $17,000 for the items stolen from the site.
“TVA takes this issue very seriously,” Jolley said. “Theft of copper and other property can impact our finances and reliability, and it’s a safety concern.”
Anyone who sees suspicious activity on or around TVA property, or who has information about such activity, can call TVA Police at 800-548-4005. There is no charge for the call.
The TVA, a corporation owned by the U.S. government, provides electricity for 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states.