ECONOMY

Grid operator overwhelmed by power transformer thefts

Grid operator HEDNO said on Tuesday that it is unable to contain the phenomena of illegal power reconnections and sabotage or theft of transformers by gangs looking to profit from selling the copper they contain on the black market.

The chief executive officer of the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator SA, Giorgos Kollias, described the extensive record of illegal incidents that have damaged the country’s grid as well as those concerning electricity meters, which besides the cost for the company also put violators at risk.

The theft of equipment such as electricity transformers, a phenomenon that is spreading across Greece, costs HEDNO some 20 million euros per annum. Gangs steal between 3,500 and 4,000 transformers every year, Kollias told reporters yesterday. They strike at night in isolated areas, empty the transformer boxes, and take the copper to be sold illegally.

HEDNO officials even describe scenes of armed gangs roaming in search of copper at nigh, saying that if they find a transformer on a post that is too high to reach, they don’t give up: They bring the post down, take the copper and leave. “We handle some 155,000 transformers and it is exceptionally difficult to control the situation,” said Kollias.

Incidents of meter tampering have also increased in frequency. Some 35,000 power consumers have restored their electricity supplies by themselves, risking their own lives in the process. Many of those reconnections have been made with the help of electrician associations, according to HEDNO representatives.

The number of power disconnections has grown by more than 10 percent since the start of the financial crisis, HEDNO data showed, reaching up to 350,000 per year, with 60 percent of that figure concerning households.