Thieves tempt

Thieves targeting Fayetteville Public Utilities’ electric substations are courting disaster, FPU officials say, noting the extreme danger involved in tampering with electric power.

“It could actually cause a fatality,” said Britt Dye, FPU’s CEO and general manager, addressing recent break-ins at three substations. “It’s very, very dangerous.”

Thieves broke into the McBurg substation a few months ago and then hit the Industrial and Hamilton substations last weekend, stealing some copper and damaging equipment.

Asked by The Times if he believes the thieves are professionals with experience in the electric industry, Dye said, “I think it’s somebody that’s got experience somewhat, but some of the things they’ve done, I don’t know that they would be professionals – they’ve just been lucky, very lucky.”

Along with creating a potentially fatal accident, tampering with substations can result in huge expenses for the utility if costly equipment is damaged.

“We’ve got some substations that it would take anywhere from $2.5 million to $3 million to rebuild it if a lot of stuff got burned,” Dye said.

For thieves, it’s a high risk that doesn’t reap big financial rewards – the cost of copper has dropped substantially from where it stood just a few years ago. Plus, scrap laws in Tennessee are stringent, requiring scrap dealers to collect a seller’s driver’s license information, fingerprints and a description and copy of the license plate of the seller’s vehicle. These items are kept on file with the scrap yard for three years.

Still, copper theft continues, as other utilities in Tennessee have reported recent break-ins at their substations, as well, Dye said.

“They (thieves) really don’t know what they’re getting into,” Dye said. “It will eventually get them if they keep doing it.”

Residents are encouraged to call 911 if they see suspicious activity around substations and other utility sites.

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