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Otter Tail Power Company personnel worked on repairs Thursday after thieves broke into a substation in north Wahpeton, N.D., to steal copper wire. Submitted photo

$50 copper wire theft causes $30,000 in damage

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Near midnight on September 4, emergency responders and Otter Tail Power Company personnel reacted to information from a caller who noticed arcing in an electrical substation in north Wahpeton, North Dakota. According to Otter Tail Power Company’s safety services manager Eric Hamm, responders discovered that a trespasser, or trespassers, had cut the substation fence and had begun to cut ground wires from electrical equipment before hitting a live wire that caused an arc flash.
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About 20 pounds of copper wire was missing from the substation.  

“My first concern is the safety of our employees, emergency responders, and the public,” said Hamm. “In this case, the thief, or thieves, risked severe burns or death for about $50 worth of copper, and they put emergency responders and people who rely on electricity for life support at risk.”

Not only does copper theft from electric service equipment often injure or kill those stealing it, it also is a federal offense, according to a press release from Otter Tail Power Company. “The Department of Homeland Security considers interference with the electrical grid to be a potential act of terrorism,” Hamm said. Hamm also expressed concern about the costs. “Repairs to Otter Tail Power Company’s substation will exceed $30,000,” he said, “That’s in addition to the impact to several large customers who had to shut down their operations when we turned off electricity to secure the scene.”   The Wahpeton Police Department is continuing the investigation and will coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security. 
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