Well back in the 1990’s, there were many illegal growers helping themselves to free power. Locating the thefts of power was a challenge for the utility. The illegal grow ops were creative and used inventive ideas to hide it from view. Of course, eventually, it all changed to make life safer for everyone. This story, however, is about one of the more creative ones.
There was a lineman doing a routine call in a rural area and he drove past a single-phase stinger with a cutout with a door missing. It led up the driveway a few spans to an old property with older buildings on it. It looked abandoned. There was only a dead-end pole on the property with no transformer on the pole. The lineman had seen it before but this time he had been given a tip about night activities.
It was worth a closer look but that would require a search warrant. There were no accounts registered to the property and the owners were a number or no-name registered holding company.
The utility decided to measure the single-phase line for primary current and found quite a large draw on the line. Of course, this was a good enough reason for the warrant to search the property for theft of power. It was all done professionally with a daytime combined search including police presence. A bucket crew was used to measure and isolate the line safely. The line was pulling around 15 amps at 14,000 volts. It was a challenge. Taking a closer look at the cutout pole, it was found to have been altered and bypassed carefully.
Using a temporary load buster arrangement, the line was isolated from the main line then tested for back feed. The search continued. The dead-end pole was not just a bare pole, it was also a bypass pole. The primary dead-end insulators were altered to connect to a special terminator. The terminator was installed in the middle of the pole which had been split in half and carefully drilled out. It was hollowed out and then laminated back together with a ground wire and moulding covering the split.
The terminator was connected to bird wire or 25 KV insulation with an air gap around the connection point. The dead-end insulators were drilled out through the middle and the bird wire running through them to the end of the # 2 primary line. A connector was painted gray to match the insulators, so it was barely visible.
The line ran into a buried container that was being used for a vault, with a cutout system supplying three 167 KVA transformers feeding a huge bunker system of grow equipment. The old barn was a cover for handling and the old well was used for water and propane used for cooling. Surveillance was via wireless cameras. There were timers for automated grow lights, heat control and venting piped out into the woods.
If anyone were to go near the operation, motion detectors would signal and shut off any obvious lights or venting.
It was estimated that the operation had stolen 85,000 dollars of power over a four-year period. 250,000K three times a year in profits would pay for the legal fees if the owners could be found.
This operation was an eye opener for the utility. It was, also, justification to establish a specialized team to do investigations called the “Green Team.” Of course, the operations grew more sophisticated, and many different methods were used with combined technologies to cover thefts. The green team was created to instruct people about the dangers and to recover monies for the utility. Eventually, the business was legalized.
Marijuana was a scary business for linemen due to the overloading of the distribution systems and working to keep the lights on was complicated. Troubleshooters and metering people put their lives on the line with some of these gangs for around ten to fifteen years. Today legalization has settled things down. The industry has moved into aquaculture and power saving equipment to improve all methods and productive generation.
The green teams are morphing into power quality and system automation to recover losses in the utility lines. Smart meters illuminated the guess work on the lower grow operation scales.
Bruce Masse – Trouble Technician