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When Power Corrupts.

Like cable signals, energy is an invisible commodity that thieves often believe they can tap into with impunity. As energy shortages lead to rolling blackouts in California and threaten other states, many experts fear that the dire situation will further embolden power thieves to divert current or tamper with meters. But so far the numbers indicate no such trend.

New research conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) shows that less than 1 percent of small to mid-size commercial and industrial sites are stealing energy. To gather the data, EPRI asked U.S. and Canadian utilities to perform unannounced inspections at small to midsize commercial and industrial businesses and report the findings. The utilities inspected about 1,600 facilities.

Of those sites, less than one dozen were identified as locations where energy theft was probable or certain, says investigator Ralph Abbott of Plexus Research, Inc., which conducted the study for EPRI. Tampering was confirmed in only one case, according to the EPRI report. In other cases, problems, such as a missing seal, could have indicated theft or, as EPRI's Larry Carmichael writes in the report, merely "careless sealing practices by the utility."

The report also looked into the effect of automatic meter reading (AMR) theft. Abbott estimates that fewer than 15 percent of all meters use AMR, which detects tampering, but its use is on the rise.

Plexus researchers found that AMR wasn't a standalone solution for preventing theft. That's because thieves commonly bypassed the meter or installed diversionary taps ahead of the meter instead of tampering with the meter itself. Carmichael writes that Plexus "has encountered no utility that believes that AMR is the overall answer to its energy theft problems," though the research firm estimates that AMRs could prevent 20 to 30 percent of tampering losses and could be valuable when combined with other evidence.
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Title Annotation:power thieves could tamper with or divert current, says Electric Power Research Institute report
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2001
Previous Article:National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Next Article:Insurance Fraud Fight.

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