Copper thieves risking lives


Stealing copper on power poles is putting people at risk. Photo: North Canterbury News file image
Stealing copper on power poles is putting people at risk. Photo: North Canterbury News file image
A surge in copper thefts from North Canterbury power poles is putting communities at risk, MainPower chief executive Andy Lester says.

He says the thefts of the low value metal are incredibly dangerous, and the high-risk criminal activity is putting people at risk of severe injury or loss of life.

Copper earthing wires are a safety feature which direct electricity safely into the ground if there is a fault on a power pole.

‘‘When earth wires are cut or stolen, there is a risk of electric shock, burns or fire, as well as the risk associated with removing an important safety feature from power poles,’’ Mr Lester says.

‘‘When these materials are stolen, it not only compromises the integrity of our infrastructure, but also puts our customers and the community at risk of electrical hazards.''

The company is working with police to investigate incidents of copper theft.

However, despite recent arrests the thefts are continuing and creating a huge extra cost for the company and the community it serves.

‘‘We estimate that since 2021 copper theft has cost MainPower over $400,000,’’ Mr Lester says.

‘‘That money would be much better spent on upgrading the MainPower network or supporting the communities of North Canterbury.

‘‘As a community trust-owned business, copper theft is costing every power consumer in the region.’’

In 2021, there were just eight instances of copper theft on the MainPower network, but during the first three months of 2024, 73 thefts have been reported.

Police are appealing to the public for information about the thefts.

‘‘Imagine if you were on your way to work, walking children to school, or walking the dog, and came into contact with exposed wires,’’ a police spokesperson says.

The thieves are also putting themselves at risk by stealing the copper, which is only worth about $8 to $10 per kilogram, to sell for scrap metal.

‘‘Our message to offenders is to stop this behaviour before someone gets hurt, including yourself.

‘‘You are putting yourselves and others at extreme risk of electrocution, for such a small return,’’ the police spokesperson says.

Police are also asking the public to stay well clear of any exposed or damaged wires they may come across.

‘‘Do not touch them and report the damage to police immediately.’’

Mr Lester is also asking the North Canterbury community to help police track down copper thieves by reporting any suspicious activity or damage to the police by calling 111 or if you have information about a previous incident, call 105. To report any damage to electricity infrastructure to MainPower, call 0800 30 90 80.

By Shelley Topp