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Power company concerned over metal thefts

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Metal thefts on the Southside have prompted electrical companies to meet with law enforcement officials.

Representatives of Central Georgia EMC, Georgia Power, and Snapping Shoals EMC held a joint meeting on metal thefts, Thursday at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites in Stockbridge.

"This secondary metal theft issue is very serious," said June Wood, assistant to the Metro South region manager for Georgia Power. "It leaves the system unsafe for the public, [and] it has the potential to cause a major outage."

Public safety officials from Henry, Clayton, Butts and Spalding counties, the cities of Hampton and Jackson, as well as from the Henry County Code Enforcement Office, and the Clayton County District Attorney's office, participated in the discussion.

"There did seem to be an increase in copper thefts in Henry and Clayton counties, compared to other areas," added Wood.

Wood said that, in the past 12 months, an increasing number of cases have been reported, with individuals stealing copper and aluminum from transformers and power substations.

She said the electrical equipment at risk of being stolen serves large customers, such as Fort Gillem in Forest Park, Fort McPherson in East Point, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Thieves, who steal copper from the utilities, take it to recycling centers to sell, Wood continued. "It's linked to the price of copper," she said. "As the price of copper increased, so did the thefts."

In January 2009, she said, copper sales were bringing in approximately $1 per pound. By January 2010, the price rose to between $2.80 to $3.10 per pound.

The labor costs to replace the material stolen or damaged can range from $3,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of the substation, said Christy Chewning, manager of marketing services for Central Georgia EMC.

Chewning said metal thieves also put themselves in danger. "It's a safety issue," she said. "There's a reason why we put fences around substations. When you cut the grounding wire around the copper, you can actually touch the fence and get electrocuted. The ones who actually make it out of the substations, after stealing copper, are very lucky."

The thefts push up electrical rates for Snapping Shoals EMC's 95,000 residential and commercial customers, said Leigh Anne Burgess, media spokesperson for Snapping Shoals EMC.

"We have had some instances of metal and service thefts," Burgess said. "Losses from metal thefts, unfortunately, are passed on to our customers. In addition to the extra costs from the metal thefts, investigation fees and technician fees are passed on as well."

The joint meeting gave officials an update on the passage of Senate Bill 82 during the 2009 legislative session, said Wood. Senate Bill 82 relates to the regulation of secondary metals recyclers, and penalties for thefts of copper and aluminum.

The law requires "a photocopy of a valid personal identification card of the person delivering the regulated metal property to the secondary metals recycler."

The law defines "aluminum property" as aluminum forms designed to shape concrete. It defines "copper property" as "any copper wire, copper tubing, copper pipe, or any copper item composed completely of copper."

The law states if the cost of the regulated metal stolen exceeds $500, the penalties will include one to five years in prison, a fine of no more than $5,000, or both.

The Snapping Shoals EMC tip line for customers to report metal or service thefts is (678) 729-8095.