Metal theft becomes a felony under utility protection bill

A bill developed by the Commodity Metals Theft Task Force in response to rising concerns about the increased incidence of metals thefts has passed the Colorado Senate and House and is awaiting Governor John Hickenlooper’s signature. SB-049, Endangering Utility Transmission, was sponsored by Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) and Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Adams/Arapahoe).

Metals theft not only causes great expense and inconvenience to the business community but also poses serious risks to public safety. Critical utility services are interrupted and protective structures such as fences and control cabinets are often damaged by thieves, leaving high voltage transmission facilities open and accessible to the public.

The charge to the task force was to promote public education surrounding metals theft issues and to identify ways to improve Colorado laws to reduce metal theft. The task force proposed changes to existing Colorado statutes that would address major public safety risk factors associated with metals theft from critical transportation and utility transmission infrastructures.

Poudre Valley REA is pleased that Colorado has significantly raised the ante for thieves who would steal metals from us and other Colorado utilities by declaring this theft to be a felony.

With the rise in the price of commodity metals such as copper and aluminum over the past few years, Colorado has seen an increase in theft of these commodity metals. When electrical facilities, rail lines, water lines and fuel pipelines are targeted by metal thieves, the results of these thefts can be major disruptions in service to the public and may also place the public and utility employees in harm’s way.

Facts relating to utilities associated metals theft:

– National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) recorded 25,083 claims for metals theft in 2009-2011 and found that 96% of the claims involved copper theft.
– Electrical Safety Foundation International survey of utilities copper theft in the U.S. found more than $60 million in losses and 450,000 minutes of utilities outage time due to theft.
– Every year 35 to 50 deaths or injuries in the U.S. are associated with copper theft.
– CREA survey of 20 rural electric cooperatives serving 58,243 miles of power lines found 104 incidents of metals theft over three years at a cost of $291,000, with 52% of the metal thefts occurring at energized facilities.
– Xcel reported that over the past six years 196 substation thefts with a cost of thefts at $973,000, with 70 percent of the thefts occurring at energized facilities.
– Metals thefts from energized electrical facilities often result in disruption of critical electrical services to medical, public safety and transportation facilities placing the safety of the public at risk.
– Protective enclosures at energized electrical facilities, such as fences and cabinets, are often compromised by metal thieves, enabling uncontrolled public access to dangerous high voltage facilities.
– Thefts of copper grounding cables from energized electrical substations create the potential for major safety hazards for utility employees.
– Railroad lines depend on electrical power to monitor train movement, switching of tracks for train deployment and warning systems such as rock slides and protected crossings for public motorized use.
– The theft of metals from rail lines has become a major concern for the owners of these lines as the number of thefts has increased dramatically in the past several years.
– The labor costs associated with replacing stolen metals can be ten times the value of the metals stolen.
– Prompt prosecution of utility metals thieves at the felony level would help to deter such theft and provide added protection of public safety.

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