Last weekend, vandals cut down a 45-foot utility pole along Des Moines Memorial Way South in an effort to steal copper. The brazen thieves targeted a pole with energized primary wires and a transformer that also held up to 35 gallons of oil.
“This is a real safety concern for us,” says Superintendent Jorge Carrasco. “Even if the vandals knew what they were doing, an innocent passer-by who came into contact with the voltage could have been killed. We take this matter seriously and hope that anyone who observes suspicious behavior – especially the cutting of a utility pole – will get in touch with us immediately.”
When the pole fell to the ground, 14,500 volts of electricity fell as well. The average household current is 110 or 220 volts of energy. City Light crews found the downed pole. No customers lost power as a result of the incident. However, the transformer was destroyed when the copper coils inside were removed and oil inside the canister spilled onto the ground. There were no PCBs in the oil and a complete clean-up of the site has been done.
This is not the first such incident for City Light. Two weeks ago, vandals dismantled a large transformer located on a site where construction demolition was taking place. In that case, oil was released that migrated into Lake Union.
“This is a dangerous proposition,” says City Light Energy Delivery Director Bernie Ziemianek. “In all likelihood, the thieves have no idea how tragic the situation could be if someone were to come into contact with live wires carrying that much voltage. Other utilities in the industry are facing similar problems and the results have not turned out so well.”
Among the deaths caused by attempts to steal copper from electrified equipment:
- An Indianapolis man was killed in February when he was electrocuted while trying to steal copper from a rooftop transformer.
- In January, a man was killed in Charlotte when he cut an electrical cable in a bid to steal copper and was electrocuted.
- Last October, a man was killed in Los Angeles while he and his wife were trying to steal copper from an electrical vault.
Anyone who sees suspicious activity around electrical equipment is urged to call police at 9-1-1 and report the incident to City Light at (206) 684-3000.
Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to nearly 1 million Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.