A B.C. Hydro worker and RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeff McArthur investigate a tampered electrical system at a home on Ayre Road in Sooke. The home was drawing free power from the electrical grid for months

Sooke Mounties investigate electricity theft

Occupants bypassed the hydro meter, syphoning free power for months, police say

The occupants of a  house on Ayre Road have a big hydro bill coming their way, after authorities alledge they were stealing electricity.

Sooke RCMP and B.C. Hydro found someone had bypassed the electrical system by removing the B.C. Hudro smart meter and jamming in two pieces of metal to keep the flow of electricity constant.

The house was drawing free electricity for months, but with the risk of fatal electrocution or spontaneous fire to its occupants, said Sooke RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeff McArthur.

McArthur said the individual found responsible could be charged under the Criminal Code for theft, which can either be the tenant or the landlord, depending on who is responsible for the hydro bill.

No charges have yet been filed.

Still, the problem of stealing power goes much further down the grid than most realize.

“It’s a serious problem and it’s a problem that the rest of ratepayers bear, because if it’s free for one person, that means someone else is paying for it,” said B.C. Hydro spokesperson Carla Louwers.

Until 2011, B.C. Hydro was losing around 850 gigawatt hours of power every year due to electricity theft, or around $100 million worth, Louwers said, adding that in the same year, smart meters as well as grid meters were installed to help curb theft.

In the case of smart meters, any tampering will send an automatic notification to B.C. Hydro, while grid meters are integrated directly within the system.

Grid meters show how much electricity is being sent out, and then say how much is going through a particular grid.

At that point, there’s no way to hide the trace of illegally-used electricity.

“We’ll be able to narrow the area down in regards to where there could be losses,” Louwers said. “If it’s not adding up on the user’s end, then we can investigate from there.”

The new installations saw a dramatic reduction of 80 per cent in electricity theft, and this year, B.C. Hydro expects the total loss of gigawatt hours will be around 175, or the equivalent of 160,000 homes.

It’s a significant drop, though people still find ways to get around it, either by bypassing the meters themselves or tapping directly into the distribution system.

Although that’s just begging the Grim Reaper for a brisk visit.

“Anytime anybody is tampering with electrical infrastructure is a risk to themselves, the public, as well as the safety of B.C. Hydro workers,” Louwers said.

Even if someone doesn’t die, the legal implications could be severe.

Besides criminal charges, individuals will need to repay B.C. Hydro for all the electricity stolen over the course of months or even years.

As far as who does the dirty work, it’s a split between B.C. Hydro and the RCMP.

“We work to recover the funds for the loss of electricity, and it’s up to law enforcement to make it a case for illegal activity,” Louwers said, adding that anyone noticing any suspicious activity of electricity theft should contact the RCMP or Crime Stoppers.

The Ayre Road house was the same location recently that involved a brawl between two groups over a tenant dispute where 10 individuals attacked each other with bear spray, bats, axes and other makeshift weapons.