AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 20 major thefts of copper wire from Austin Energy customer-owned equipment have been reported this year alone.
Thieves will pry open transformers and other equipment serving as the main power source to a building and cut wires to steal copper conduit.
Austin Energy supervisor Jose “Joey” Hernandez believes these thieves are skilled at operating electrical equipment.
“We’re finding transformers that basically have been de-energized by the thieves and the copper has been pulled totally completely out,” he said.
Hernandez says his staff has found fuses removed and cables cut at various locations.
In multiple instances, some of these lines are left still energized, causing considerable danger to the public.
Most of these crimes are committed outside large empty buildings such as movie theatres, gyms and grocery stores.
According to Austin Energy, this can cost commercial customers tens of thousands of dollars to repair.
“We’re starting to see about three or four of these thefts each week,” Hernandez said. “It seems like they’re taking the right precautions and know exactly what they’re doing.”
The public utility is proactively responding to meter outages at large commercial buildings, especially those that are unoccupied, as that may indicate a theft is in progress.
Austin Energy said its personnel remain vigilant and demonstrate heightened awareness when working on or around energized equipment because of potential safety hazards.
These thefts impact Austin Energy customers, draining critical equipment and staff resources, delaying energizing of new buildings and the replacement of electric equipment that is already hard to find because of national supply chain issues.
“Our focus on customer service is hampered by having to divert staff resources and critical supplies to repair equipment damaged by copper theft,” Austin Energy Vice President Elton Richards said. “Instead of energizing commercial customers, we’re responding to damaged equipment and that pushes back critical services for our customers.
The public utility says the Austin Police Department is aware of the recent rise in copper theft.
If you see anything suspicious around electrical equipment, please call 3-1-1.
If someone sees what they believe to be a theft in progress, they should not approach the individual and immediately call 9-1-1.