Copper Thefts Impacting Austin Energy Service, Amplifying Supply Chain Challenges

July 13, 2023

Utility’s Commercial Customers Have Experienced More Than 20 Copper Thefts This Year

Copper theft is on the rise in Austin, with more than 20 major thefts from customer-owned energy service equipment in the first six months of 2023. It appears that the perpetrators have some knowledge of how to de-energize or isolate portions of electrical equipment before removing the copper.

Thieves will pry open transformers and other equipment serving as the main power source to a building and cut wires to steal copper conduit. In multiple instances, some of these lines are left still energized, causing great danger to Austin Energy staff and the public.

Austin Energy personnel report finding fuses removed, cables cut and still-energized cable at various locations. In some instances, safety measures have been damaged or stolen, creating additional hazards. Thefts occurred at movie theatres, gyms, grocery stores and vacant commercial buildings, potentially costing commercial customers tens of thousands of dollars to repair.

The utility is proactively responding to meter outages at large commercial buildings, especially those that are unoccupied, as that may indicate a theft is in progress. Austin Energy personnel remain vigilant and demonstrate heightened awareness when working on or around energized equipment because of potential safety hazards.

These thefts impact Austin Energy customers, as it drains critical equipment and staff resources, delaying energizing of new buildings and replacement of critical equipment that is already hard to find due to national supply chain issues.

“Our focus on customer service is hampered by having to divert staff resources and critical supplies to repair equipment damaged by copper theft,” said Elton Richards, Austin Energy vice president for field operations. “Instead of energizing commercial customers, we’re responding to damaged equipment and that pushes back critical services for our customers. The Austin Police Department is aware of the rise in copper theft incidents, so if you see something, say something by reporting it.”

Austinites are asked to call 3-1-1 to report anything suspicious observed around electrical equipment. If someone sees what they believe to be a theft in progress, they should not approach the individuals and call 911 immediately.