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KU is marking power lines to deter copper thieves

Looking to outwit copper-stealing criminals, Kentucky Utilities is beginning to mark its power lines so that if they are stolen, salvage operations can identify them.

The company announced Monday that it is using a "micro-encryption system," similar to invisible ink, "that is not there to the naked eye," said spokesman Cliff Feltham.

It's another step of cooperation between utilities and salvage operations, as the two try to stop the growing number of thefts stemming from higher copper and scrap-metal prices.

The two cooperated earlier this year on a new state law that calls for more stringent record-keeping by salvage operations.

Under that law, information, including driver's license data, is taken from all customers, and salvage materials are photographed for a virtual inventory, said Greg Dixon of the Kentucky Scrap Processors group.

KU is marking all of its new copper lines with the technology and is going into the field to mark existing lines "as soon as possible, particularly in areas where we have had more than one theft over the years," Feltham said.

So far this year, the company and Louisville Gas & Electric, both owned by E.ON U.S., have had more than 28 thefts.

The company is also using a new material called "copper-weld," which contains very little copper, in some equipment. It's tougher to cut and is worth less at salvage yards.

More lights and security patrols have also been added at facilities.

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