It's a petty theft that could have had deadly consequences.
A lineman was electrocuted while working on a transmission tower just outside Churchill Falls last month.
Nalcor, the crown corporation that operates the transmission line and the adjacent electrical yard, said it happened because someone stole the copper ground wire that should have kept the lineman safe.
"He was lucky. We don't know how else this could have gone but we do know that it was a very dangerous situation," said Walter Parsons, a Nalcor vice president.
On Oct. 10, Parsons said, the man was on a transmission line platform 25 metres — about 82 feet — in the air, working with another lineman to replace an insulator, which is part of regular tower maintenance.
He touched a piece of electrified equipment and the shock immobilized him for a few minutes, Parsons said, but he was able to climb down the tower under his own steam.
The lineman was checked out at the Churchill Falls health clinic and returned to work later that day, but Parsons said he could have been killed.
"One small change and it could have been much, much more serious or it could have even led to a fatality."
'Significant number' of wires cut
Ground wires are a critical part of the network in an electrical yard. The copper wires keep electric equipment safe.
When linemen are doing maintenance or installing new parts, they turn off the power in the equipment they're working on.
Folks are not only endangering our line workers, but they're also endangering their own lives. - Walter Parsons
But that equipment can become electrified again by way of induction — the phenomenon that allows electricity to travel through the air from one power line to another — unless the equipment is grounded.
"The system depends on having an effective ground and having the wires in place," Parsons said.
"We found that a significant number of the ground wires in the locked and secured station were cut and removed, and so that made the equipment unsafe."
Copper thefts on the rise
Parsons said copper wire thefts from Nalcor yards are on the rise, but this is the first time someone's been injured as a result.
He fears it won't be the last.
"Folks are not only endangering our line workers, but they're also endangering their own lives."
The trend has forced Nalcor to make some changes. Parsons said there will be new training updates, and from now on crews will be more diligent in ensuring equipment is operating as expected.
Nalcor filed a police report with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in Churchill Falls.
Parsons said he can't figure out why someone would steal copper wire in the first place.
"It's not big dollars," he said.
"I understand that there is some scrap value, but it's difficult to understand."