STOLEN HYDRO A GROWING CONCERN
In every single marijuana grow operation busted in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows during the past few months, police have found the plants were being grown by lights and other equipment powered by stolen electricity.
While it's impossible to calculate how much juice is being stolen locally to grow pot, a spokesperson for the public utility says the problem has been steadily rising over the last few years.
"It's certainly a growing concern, no pun intended," said Elisha Moreno, Monday.
Last year, BC Hydro billed out $2.2 million to customers stealing electricity to keep their illegal crops budding before being busted.
Of that money, the public utility recouped around $1.8 million, but the true costs associated with theft of electricity is far higher, with some estimates predicting as much as $100 million worth of power is being stolen each year.
"There's ones out there we don't know about," Moreno said.
At any given time, the Ridge Meadows RCMP say they have tips pointing to well over 100 grow ops and in the most recent busts over the last month, which saw nine raids, electrical bypasses were found in all the homes.
Moreno says Hydro does what it can to monitor the theft of electricity and employs nine investigators throughout the province whose job it is to sniff out stolen electricity.
"What we're most interested in is the electrical theft," she said, adding, Hydro monitors for unusual "spikes" in electrical use coming from homes and trains meter readers to be on the lookout for tampered connection boxes or unusual activity.
But because Hydro has no law enforcement authority, Moreno says that if someone is caught stealing electricity, as soon as their bill is paid in full, power to the home will be restored and it's up to the police to bring criminal charges.
"We don't have authority to do that," she said.
The largest single bill given to a homeowner for stealing electricity was $40,000.
BC Hydro, says Moreno, is also concerned about the rising costs of repairing connections to homes and other equipment damaged or ruined by grow ops. She says it costs $1,500 every time a transformer blows because too much electricity is being passed through it to power a grow op which usually requires more power than a residential home is rated to handle through its Hydro hook-up.
"(Those costs) are definitely increasing...little by little every year," she says.