A sophisticated network of metal thieves has targeted some 20 French wind turbines in a new looting trend, scaling the near 40-metre-high structures and stealing up to one tonne of metal from a single engine, Le Figaro reported Wednesday.
Citing an anonymous police source, the daily newspaper said the ring stole metal from wind farms in sparsely populated areas, where they had less chance of being caught.
“They cut the power to turn off the engine propeller motor,” the officer said, noting the thieves broke through the doors at the bottom of the turbines, before using the stairs to reach the engine which is located at the top – often as high as 40 metres off the ground. “By using bolt cutters and makeshift tools they then cut and ripped out the whole metal wiring, which is mostly made of copper,” he said.
The officer said a metal raid of a single wind turbine engine could amount to as much as one tonne of loot. One tonne of copper is estimated to be worth around 4,500 euros on the market.
But the officer said the thieves take great risks, since their modus operandi means they’re stuck within the turbines for several minutes during the raids, with no alternative exits to the bottom door.
According to Le Figaro, at least 20 such incidents have been recorded recently. Two successful raids and one foiled attempt were reported in March alone.
In response to the escalated number of raids, turbine operators have installed video surveillance systems, while police have begun patrolling particularly large wind farms with helicopters equipped with cameras.
“If it’s not a national problem yet, it’s soon going to become one” an unnamed investigator told the newspaper.
Between 2012 and 2013, the number of reported metal theft cases in France rose by almost 18 percent, from 11,811 to 13,923. Copper made up 65 percent of the stolen metal.