SABINE COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Thursday night a copper thief was stealing copper grounding wires at a Center substation belonging to Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative (DETEC). At the very same time, repair crews were fixing damage left by similar thefts at eight other locations.
Crews are busy at work replacing copper ground wires, as a mobile substation keeps power going to customers in the Six Mile area of Sabine County.
"We had to drop the power for a short while in the wee hours of the morning, but it didn't stay off long," said Casey Sowell, a DETEC substation technician.
The biggest lead so far is a picture taken of a man believed to have committed the Center theft. The photograph was caught by a surveillance camera, but reveals little detail.
"He had camouflage and he was also wearing a wielding shield and had bolt cutters. He is aware of the danger," said Larry Warren, DETEC manager.
The missing copper leads from the transformer to the ground.
"They cut it off as high as they can reach," said a workman.
It's not long before technicians monitoring voltage outputs begin to notice something wrong.
There's a potential danger for the thief who breaks in, but there is also a potential danger for the crew men who have to make the repairs.
"Any time you take grounding devices off of electric equipment or apparatus it's extremely dangerous," said Warren. "Not only does it not operate as it should, but there can be high voltages in places where there's normally not high voltages."
Workmen found evidence of a fire at the Six Mile substation where wiring arced.
"Pretty aggravating that we have to come out here and work til three in the morning to replace all that for somebody to get a little bit of copper," said Sowell.
The copper strands might bring the thief up to a thousand dollars a hit. In the end it will cost electric co-op members much more.
"In the neighborhood of 40 to 50 thousand to make repairs and we don't know about 6 Mile substation. We are afraid that it may have damaged the substation's transformer and if that's the case we are talking about $500,000," said Warren.
This isn't an ordinary copper theft. It's one that overtime can lead to widespread outages and worse than that even death.
Salvage yards are reminded of a new Texas law requiring they get additional identification from sellers of regulated metals.
Anyone having information about the thefts are encouraged to contact your sheriff's department or the Deep East Texas Electric Co-op.