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Coachella Valley copper thefts  

Break-ins at windmills are on the rise in the Coachella Valley, and it’s all over the price of copper. We brought you the first part of this exclusive story on KMIR6 news at 6 last night. KMIR6 reporter Ciara Coyle takes us inside one of the giant windmills, giving you a first-hand look at the extreme risks thieves take, trying to cut copper.

Chris Copeland steps into one of his wind-energy turbines in the Coachella Valley. Inside, it’s a 200-foot climb to the top. Copper wires covered with rubber, run from the top of the turbine, to a computer…then to an underground transformer. The copper, is what the crooks, covet. One wire is 690 volts. That’s enough electricity, he says, to power your house for about 2 weeks. He says thieves risk electrocution and…

Chris Copeland/Wind Tech Energy: “The Big one is fall hazard where people climbing immense towers to try to steal copper from us.”

A windmill was broken into recently, causing Chris about $25,000 in damages.

Chris Copeland/Wind Tech Energy: “We’re losing as much money as a bank robbery, bank robber may get $2,000 to $3,000, they may steal $20,000 to $30,000 in single tower for us.”

Chris says he and some of the other wind energy owners have recently started a task force so they can communicate better about break-ins. He also says they’re finding a lot of the people who break in, are repeat offenders.

Chris Copeland/Wind Tech Energy: “People we’ve caught almost to a tee,you know, habitual drug user.”

He says he’s well aware that most of the stolen copper, winds up in scrap yards that pay cash. This rural territory also poses a problem, according to police.

Sgt. Mitch Spike/Palm Springs Police Dept. “We’re spread out of 96 square miles. One of things we count on is witnesses, people that see something out of ordinary.”

The windmill companies use hidden security cameras to look out for copper crooks…but police say it’s just sometimes, too hard for them to stop all of the windmill robberies.

In fact, Sgt. Mitch Spike says there is a $1000 reward offered by many law enforcement agencies, for information leading to the conviction of copper thieves.

He also points out that in most cases, copper theft equals a felony and can land the crooks in prison.


2 April 2008

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