Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) has teamed up with Crime Solvers of Charles County to offer a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest or indictment of individuals stealing copper wire from the electric distribution system in Southern Maryland.

The economic slowdown has increased the occurrences of copper theft throughout the nation and in Southern Maryland. Individuals who steal copper wire from the electric utility are not just stealing from SMECO—they are stealing from every customer-member.

“As owners of the cooperative, the cost of replacing the stolen copper, the cost of the manpower needed to repair damaged systems, and the cost of increased security is reflected in the electric bill of every customer on the system. The damage can also cause power interruptions and endanger lives. Stealing wire from the electric system is illegal and it can be deadly,” said Austin J. Slater, Jr., SMECO President and CEO.

The main instances of theft locally have been of neutral wires on poles and in electric substations. Electric systems are built to provide safe pathways to carry electricity. Removing the neutral wire is dangerous and creates a potential for outages.

“When someone cuts the neutral wire, it interrupts the path of electricity and that person can be the next best path to the ground,” said Mike Nygaard, SMECO’s Job Training and Safety Director. “Even though it is a neutral wire, it is a current-carrying conductor. When the wire is cut and the flow of current is broken, electric service may be disrupted and people may be injured. For a couple of dollars, it’s not worth it.”

Stealing wire and equipment from utility facilities is