Upgrades made at Duke Energy substations to reduce copper theft

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comMay 21, 2013 

— Duke Energy Carolinas has completed security upgrades at rural substations in Greensboro and Durham where thieves have been stealing copper and committing acts of vandalism.

Thieves have been targeting substations for the copper wire commonly used to ground electrical equipment, according to company spokesman Pete Brooks.

The upgrades for the Parkwood Tie Station in Durham, along with the Main Substation and Merritt Road Retail Substation in Greensboro, include the installation of video cameras, motion sensors and two-way loud speakers, Brooks said Monday.

Duke Energy Carolinas, which provides electricity to about 2.4 million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina, also began using copper-clad wire at the substations because – unlike pure copper wire – it has no resale value. It’s also less expensive to replace.

Although no deaths or injuries have been reported recently as a result of substation break-ins, Brooks said death or serious injury is a possibility.

“People across the country get electrocuted doing this every year,” he said. “Workers who come into an area where the electricity is not grounded are also at risk.”

“Like all businesses, Duke Energy is not immune to crime,” said Tim Rigg, Duke Energy’s managing director of Enterprise Protective Services.” That’s why the company plans to use some of the latest technology available to dissuade criminals from not only damaging our equipment, but putting their lives in jeopardy.

“In the past, locks and chains, barbed wire, security flood lighting and physical surveillance were the best deterrents available,” he added. “Today, we’re adding high-tech equipment to alert Duke Energy security when an attempted break-in is occurring.”

Brooks pointed out that a much more common problem is power outages due to equipment failure after a substation break-in.

Duke Energy officials chose the Durham and Greensboro substations for upgrades because the facilities are located away from populated areas and more susceptible to break-ins.

Every year, the company spends millions of dollars to prevent the theft of copper wire and equipment. Despite fencing and razor wire around these facilities, thieves have broken into substations and damaged electrical equipment in an attempt to steal the copper.

Prior to the upgrades, Brooks said thieves only needed a pair of wire cutters to cut a hole in the fence that surrounds a substation to get inside.

Substations are just one target for thieves looking for copper, which has a resale value between $2.63 and $2.82 per pound.

Kammie Michael, a Durham police spokeswoman, reported that police have recently seen an uptick in the theft of copper and other metals from large industrial air-conditioning units.

“This causes a large amount of damage to the air-conditioning units,” she said. “These have been happening throughout the city.”

Duke Energy asks that residents continue to call 911 or their local police if they see any suspicious activities around its equipment.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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