The issue has become an increasingly serious one for the energy networks over the past few years. We are working with the Government, the Police (through the Association of Chief Police Officers) as well as other affected industries to ensure this issue is at the top of the policy agenda.
The cost to the public.
- According to the ENA Security Incident Reporting System (SIRS) database, from January 2015 to December 2015 figures indicated the cost incurred from metal theft to the ENA Electricity Network Operators was approximately £2.83 Million. By October 2016 this had increased to £4.8 Million. These costs are directly passed on to customers in their electricity bills.
- In addition, so far this year (2016) there have been approximately 680 cases that have led to loss of supply to at approximately 25,500 homes some cases as a result caused damage to customer’s TVs, computers and boilers as well as causing fires as a result of the outage. The impact on businesses can be calculated in the tens of thousands. Predominantly Metal Theft can be seen to be increasing particularly in north western areas.
People die or are seriously injured
- There have been been a couple of deaths associated with metal theft over the past few years and a number of significant injuries including those to staff and members of the public.
- A very unfortunate incident was in July 2011 where a 16-year-old was killed when he tried to steal copper from an electrical substation in Leeds. His body was found by a routine security patrol, which had been stepped up as a result of a spate of incidents in the region. Police apprehended three other youths for questioning. This is not a nice way to die and staff and the public can be traumatised by seeing or having to deal with the aftermath.
The impact on energy security
- The problem has now escalated to proportions that could see whole regions blacked out for hours. National Grid frily recently suffered a major theft. The earth wire of a 275kv overhead power line was stolen.
- The anti-climbing guard was cut and the pylon was climbed in broad day light, the earth wire was also dismantled, which fell to ground and was then cut up. The earth wire is at the very top of these tall pylons. It could have fallen onto the live wires below, which could potentially have jeopardised the supply to more than 100,000 people. If it had been a 400kv line then this figure could have risen up to 500,000.
- A taste of what can happen when a large area is cut off due to what was generally suspected as an attempted metal theft, though could never be proved due to fire damage came some years ago in Dartford. It resulted in 94,000 customers losing supply, with almost 20,000 customers being off supply for more than 24 hours. It affected four major electricity circuits, affecting homes, businesses, petrol stations, and Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford. The criminals were unsuccessful in obtaining any metals due to the intensity of the resulting fire. After looking at all the evidence, Ofgem concluded that this was an exceptional event.
- The costs associated with the recovery of supplies were not only that of the physical reinstatement but also included initial goodwill payments given to customers and another £700,000 distributed to more than 12,000 of the worst-affected customers. Also, a community fund of £750,000 was set up to support local causes to benefit residents.
Not just a threat to electricity infrastructure
- It is not just electricity infrastructure that is attacked but gas pipes and equipment as well. This has caused explosions in private homes and has nearly caused carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
- Fairly recently two men broke into a derelict property in Hartlepool to steal copper from a gas boiler. During the attempted theft they caused a gas leak and a fire that lead to a huge explosion that blew a hole in the roof of the end-terrace property and shards of glass left a bystander with cuts to her face.
- The incident required over 100 people to be evacuated from their homes and 150ft cordon to be set up for 4 hours whilst gas engineers secured the scene and structural integrity of surrounding buildings was examined. Thankfully, so far no one has been seriously injured but again the fear is that this could happen anytime.
- Innocent lives are being put at risk. Last year a chimney flue was stolen in Hull, which led to a gas leak in the home of a 64-year-old grandmother. When she realised the flue had been stolen she turned off her boiler to avoid CO poisoning. Had a neighbour not pointed out the stolen flue, this incident could have easily resulted in her and her grandson being killed.
- In Edinburgh a man who stole pipes from a flat two floors below him almost blew up the building after causing a gas leak. The quick actions of police officers, investigating the strong smell of gas in the common stair of a block of flats, prevented what could have been a catastrophic explosion.
The value of the metal stolen often small
- A large proportion of these thefts are small scale and low value yet high impact. We are talking about thefts that amount to no more than a few hundred pounds. Yet the cost to industry and the impact on the public is potentially huge.
- A recent theft in Yorkshire cost local residents and insurers over half a million pounds in broken electrical equipment and boilers as a result of a theft of £40 of copper. Beyond this, the huge cost of repairing and replacing stolen equipment, the security required, and the cost in workers time, must all be met by the bill payer.
Action needed now before it is too late
- We have worked actively with the Government to get the changes neeed incorporated and enforced in the new scrap metal dealers’ Act legislation. Across Europe and the majority of States in the US legislation now exists that creates a cashless scrap metal industry model and that has proper and rigorous licensing regime.
- Meanwhile, we are keeping the pressure up with a wide ranging media campaign and engagement on the issue including work with the Mayor of London, Local Government Association, and reputable scrap metal dealers who want to see change.
- We need to concentrate on making the industries equipment more difficult to steal and on dealing with the impact on customers from the effects of stolen equipment. Plans include some modest extra costs that will incur additional security measures and public education, as well as working with other organisations (such as charitable sectors and the regulators) on new ways to deliver campaigns to enhance public safety and reduce the cost and inconvenience that this crime creates for customers.