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NIPCO and Member Co-op Victims of Copper Theft

  • Posted: 08.22.2021

Copper theft is a serious crime. These thefts can cause power surges, outages, fires, explosions and injuries to co-op workers or innocent people coming into contact with tampered equipment.

On Friday, August 20 between the hours of 10-11PM, Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative and its member distribution cooperative, Western Iowa Power Cooperative, were victims of copper thieves. The vandalism these thieves performed became evident the evening of August 21 and during the early morning hours of August 22. Four distribution substations and one transmission switching station in Monona County were vandalized. In each case, vandals cut through locked gates and mesh fencing to gain access to the substation equipment where they stripped copper grounding wire attached to the electric componentry and system. This resulted in SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) alarms and calls from local passersby, stating they were a witness to electrical arcing/fire and open gates and fencing. While electric power was able to be re-routed to prevent outages to member-consumers, all sites required extensive repair to restore normal operations. Two substation sites received major damage which necessitated electric cooperative crews more time to assess and repair.

Damage at one of the substations that was vandalized the weekend of August 20, 2021. The stripping of copper grounding wire caused the electric equipment to start an electrical arc through its own steel shell into the concrete, burning so hot that a hole was burned into the concrete, turning it to glass.

No personal injuries to any WIPCO or NIPCO crews occurred, and minimal power outages were reported by member-consumers of WIPCO. All power related to this vandalism was restored by 4:30AM on Sunday morning.

“We are very grateful to the local authorities in Monona County and the surrounding area with assisting NIPCO and WIPCO crews to secure a dangerous situation,” said Matt Washburn, Executive Vice President and General Manager of NIPCO. “It’s hard to comprehend how these individuals would put themselves and others in harm’s way for such little value. These thefts put the NIPCO team and its member cooperatives in danger. There is no value worth the risk of bodily harm. We urge the public that if they see suspicious activity in or around electric infrastructure to say something. Call NIPCO’s office at 712-546-4141 or call Crime Stoppers number at 800-452-1111 to help us stop copper thefts.”