Hartford (CBS CONNECTICUT) — Stemming from a dramatic rise in value over the past decade, nearly 50,000 incidents of copper theft have cost U.S. utility sites an estimated $1 billion annually.
The value of copper has increased dramatically. It was valued at $1.25 a pound in 2009, increased to an all-time high of $4.50 a pound in 2011, and is currently selling at $3.42 a pound. In 2003, copper cost less than $1.
According to an Office of Legislative Research report, copper theft normally involves stealing metal from vacant or foreclosed housing, construction sites, utility poles, transformers, or any place where it is accessible and relatively deserted. Generally, the thief sells the copper for cash at scrap metal yards, where it is melted and reshaped for other uses.
A typical copper thief may break into a vacant home and tear down walls in order to reach copper pipes, wires, and cables. Kitchen and bathroom fixtures and plumbing are also frequently ripped away.
According to a U.S. Department of Energy study, there have been approximately 9,000 media reports of copper theft in the United States over the past decade.
A large majority of these thefts result in just minor monetary cost. However, when a thief steals several hundred dollars’ worth of copper, the utility company must spend over a thousand dollars to make the repair.
According to an Electric Safety Foundation International (ESFI) study from 2008, approximately one-third of the cost to make repairs is for replacement wires and the remainder is for paying the repair crews. The study also collected data on copper theft from 618 U.S. utility companies and found that there was over $22 million in repair costs in 2008.
States have been more effective than the federal government in enacting copper-theft legislation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 33 states have enacted legislation related to copper theft.