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New laws target metal theft in Idaho, Washington

It’s now a felony in Idaho to steal copper or other metals from an electrical substation or other utility installation and interrupt service in the process, and utilities are immune from liability if thieves are injured in the act of their pilfering. Plus, Idaho scrap dealers must photograph each of their customers who sells them metal, along with the metal and their vehicle and license plate. Avista Corp. sought the new law, saying it’s seen more than 100 thefts in the past three years and losses of about $400,000; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho’s new law took effect this week; Washington also beefed up its existing anti-metal theft laws this year, setting up a new system requiring scrap dealers to be licensed, and requiring dealers to keep sales transaction records for five years instead of one. “It’s happening everywhere,” said Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock. “It’s a nationwide issue that utilities across the country are experiencing.”

They’re not alone – farms, construction sites and railroads also are reporting big losses from metal theft. That includes everyone from farmers on the Rathdrum Prairie whose sprinkler equipment has been targeted, to Kootenai Electric Cooperative, which last September had to spend $10,000 to replace grounding wires on 60 of its power poles, for which the thieves likely earned only about $200 from the metal. Ratepayers foot the bill.

“It causes damage to the electric system, which impacts reliability,” said Idaho Power spokesman Kevin Winslow. “The costs impact our customers, and it’s also a safety issue.”