An Indiana electric cooperative and the local sheriff’s office are trying to figure out who stole 90 panels from a solar facility in Clark County recently.

“It’s a mystery; that’s for sure. Whoever took them made a lot of back-and-forth trips,” said Greg Seiter, manager of communications at Hoosier Energy, a G&T in Bloomington. He noted that each panel measures about 5 feet by 3 feet and weighs about 60 pounds.

“The site is located off a major interstate and it’s hard to believe that someone didn’t notice the activity,” he said. “Or it’s possible they saw something—people at the site—but thought they were maintenance workers.”

Also puzzling is what the thieves will do with their haul. The commercial-grade panels are unsuitable for residential use, said Seiter.

“They can’t be used for resale purposes in that regard, so they’re essentially worthless on the black market,” he said, adding that manufacturer serial numbers stamped on each panel makes them easily traceable.

The G&T filed a report with the Clark County, Indiana, sheriff’s office. Cpl. Mark Grube could not comment on the case and said the investigation is ongoing.

The panels each generate 315 watts and belong to Hoosier Energy’s solar facility near Henryville, one of the G&T’s 10 sites. No one lost power as a result of the theft, and the co-op’s insurance policy will cover the $18,000 needed for replacements, said Seiter.

Seiter said a contractor was doing a routine check Aug. 14 and saw a gaping hole in the chain-link fence surrounding the 4,100-panel installation. And then the worker noticed the missing panels—not on the facility’s perimeter but right in the middle.

“If I had to guess, I’d say panels toward the center of the array were targeted so that it would be more difficult for workers to notice some had been removed,” said Seiter.

And since the panels use very little copper, said Seiter, thieves hoping to turn a profit from any scrap sales are in for disappointment.

Regardless of the crooks’ intentions, theft of electric utility equipment is dangerous.

“It’s fenced off for a reason. You’re risking electrocution and your life if you go beyond the fence,” said Seiter.

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