02/25/2014 11:06 EST | Updated 04/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Surrey spending $9M to replace copper wire in streetlights

The City of Surrey, B.C., says it will replace all copper wire connecting its streetlights in order to curtail an epidemic of metal theft.

City councillor Barinder Rasode says Surrey has spent $3.5 million over the past two years on repairing damage from copper wire theft. That total does not account for policing costs, staff time that could be spent elsewhere, or the inconvenience of blackouts caused by theft.

Now the city is planning to spend $9 million on replacing all copper wire in its streetlights with a compound alloy that is 90 per cent less valuable. Moreover, the insulation that will cover the new alloy will be nearly impossible to burn off without damaging the metal, making it useless to thieves.

"Wire theft is a significant problem, and putting $9 million into a preventative solution to make sure that we're not disrupting emergency service and have a solution that ultimately leads to eliminating wire theft I think is an excellent investment," said Rasode.

"Copper theft has become quite easy, and they have turned it into a bit of a science. So we just wanted to be able to pull out the rug from under the thieves and say this is no longer happening in Surrey."

A staff report says Surrey is the first city in North America to get rid of copper wire. It could take up to a year for the project to be completed.