Thieves Target EV Charging Stations for Copper Wiring, Adding Another Hurdle for Electric Vehicles

Thieves Target EV Charging Stations for Copper Wiring, Adding Another Hurdle for Electric Vehicles

In the early hours of a chilly April night in Seattle, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck pulled up to an electric vehicle (EV) charging station in a shopping center parking lot. Two men exited the vehicle, one with a headlamp, and used bolt cutters to snip several charging cables. Within 2½ minutes, they had loaded the cables into their truck and vanished.

This incident is part of a growing trend across the United States where thieves target EV charging stations to steal copper wiring from the cables. With copper prices nearing record highs, these criminals can fetch significant sums by selling the stolen material. However, the thefts often disable entire charging stations, leaving EV owners scrambling to find functional chargers, adding stress and frustration to their travel experience.

For U.S. automakers striving to convert more Americans to EVs, these thefts pose an additional challenge. Many potential buyers are already hesitant due to concerns about charging times and the availability of charging stations. The prospect of encountering a broken-down charger further deters these potential buyers, reinforcing their preference for traditional gasoline or hybrid vehicles.

Major automakers like Stellantis, Ford, and General Motors have made substantial investments in EVs, with ambitious goals for increasing EV production and sales over the next decade. These plans rely on convincing consumers that they can count on readily available and functional charging stations. The rise in cable thefts undermines this assurance.

Electrify America, the second-largest network of direct-current fast chargers in the U.S., has seen a significant increase in cable thefts. Two years ago, cable cuts were rare, occurring perhaps once every six months. This year, however, the figure has skyrocketed to 129 incidents by May, surpassing the total for all of 2023. One Seattle station alone experienced six cable cuts in the past year.

Other leading EV charging companies, including Flo and EVgo, report similar increases in thefts, with stations in Seattle, Nevada, California, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Pennsylvania being frequent targets. Tesla’s charging stations in Seattle, Oakland, and Houston have also been hit, with Seattle police reporting a surge in such thefts this year.

The financial impact on charging companies is significant. Replacing a single cable can cost about $1,000, a stark contrast to the $15 to $20 thieves might get per cable at a scrap yard. Despite the low individual payout, the cumulative effect of multiple thefts can be lucrative for the criminals.

To combat this issue, charging companies are implementing various measures. Electrify America is installing more security cameras, while Houston police are monitoring recycling centers for stolen copper. However, identifying stolen metal remains challenging, as thieves often remove insulation before selling the copper.

The Recycled Materials Association is working with law enforcement to issue scrap-theft alerts, helping scrap yards identify and report suspicious materials. Meanwhile, authorities urge EV owners to report any unusual activity around charging stations and suggest the installation of more security cameras in these often isolated locations.

As police in Seattle and Houston continue to pursue leads, the goal remains to stop the thieves and ensure the reliability of EV charging infrastructure. Sgt. Robert Carson of Houston’s police metal-theft unit emphasized the importance of vigilance, stating, “If people are driving down the road and you see a gas-powered vehicle, a truck, at a charging station, that probably doesn’t belong there.”

Until the thefts can be curbed, EV owners and automakers face an added obstacle in the journey toward a greener, more sustainable future.

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