Stolen electricity used to nourish a proliferating crop of home-grow
marijuana operations is costing Waterloo Region and Guelph utility
companies about $2 million a year. And the financial consequences of stolen
power that juices about 200 pot gardens in area homes is seen in higher
customer bills, utility managers agree.

Depending on the size of the high-risk operations, the managers estimate
the stolen electricity -- hot-wired around hydro meters -- is worth about
$1,000 a month per home.

Ron Charie, Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro manager, said the $2-million estimate
for hydro stolen every year by pot-grow operations "sounds reasonable."

"Those millions are part of the reason we're taking an aggressive approach
with police . . . it's regular customers who end up paying more for power
when this continues," he said.

Taxpayers are also billed for the cost of police investigations,
prosecutions and work done by firefighters to control blazes at home-grow
operations.

Among other costs, they also pay for time involved for inspections and
repair work done by hydro workers, as well as costs involved when children
are taken into agency care after home-grow raids.

Staff Sgt. Ray Massicotte of the Waterloo regional police drug squad said
intelligence data shows that while police are raiding dozens of in-house
dope farms, more than 200 local operations continue to harvest pot crops.

He said every officer involved in home-grow investigations earns about $30
an hour and spends 60 to 120 hours plus overtime on a case.

Police have raided 70 indoor pot gardens in the past two years,
confiscating an average of $1 million worth of marijuana every month.

In that time, fire caused by home-grow operations damaged or gutted three
Kitchener and Cambridge homes.

In addition to unsafe hookups created to conceal unusually high electricity
consumption, police have found toxic cocktails of dangerous chemicals used
to feed plants, Massicotte said.

Police, who found children playing around pot-growing equipment, have
called in child-welfare workers who took at least 15 children into care.
Meanwhile, police involved in raids in Hamilton and London found booby
traps set to detonate if intruders went too close to home-grow crops.

Because the operations are a minefield of unsafe conditions, hydro managers
said safety training is being given to workers called in to clean up after
home-grows.

John Grotheer, manager at Cambridge-North Dumfries Hydro, said
"awesome-sized'' marijuana operations at homes in his area have consumed
large amounts of stolen power.

"When I look at the number investigated, it's obvious they result in a
major financial loss for all of us," he said.

Al Clark, Waterloo North Hydro manager, said the theft of power is
expensive, but he's more worried about safety issues experienced by
homeowners who live near home-grows.

"These people (who grow pot) are a hazard to themselves . . . and certainly
cause fire hazards for their neighbours," he said.

Charie said when courts order convicted growers to repay the cost of stolen
power, restitution is rarely made.

"This is not a regional problem, it's country-wide," he said. "Costs are
enormous . . . and our first responsibility is to protect our honest
customers who pay their hydro bills on time."


Newshawk: puff_tuff
Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jan 2002
Source: Kitchener-Waterloo Record (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002 Kitchener-Waterloo Record
Contact: letters@therecord.com
Website: http://www.therecord.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/225
Author: Frank Etherington, Record Staff