As solar power grows, so does panel theft

As solar energy creeps inexorably into public use, it is bringing with it an unexpected and unwanted parasite: thieves who take solar panels in the countryside.

The Farm Bureau has sent out an alert that solar panels are being targeted in rural counties.

Although solar panel theft is not yet a serious problem in San Luis Obispo County, officials here fear it will become one because it is taking hold in adjacent counties.

Kern, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties are experiencing a spike in theft of solar panels, according to Brandy Swain, rural crime specialist in the Sheriff’s Department Rural Crime Unit.

“We haven’t had that many cases in our county,” Swain said, but “there is definitely a potential for it to increase.”

She said a four-foot-by-eight-foot solar panel was stolen along Highway 166 in South County last month when thieves cut off the locks.

Swain said at the moment heavy equipment theft is more of a concern, as thieves target construction sites and other venues for generators, lawn mowers, weed whackers and the like.

Nonetheless, she added, people in rural areas should be cautious about protecting their solar panels.

Swain noted that the Napa County Sheriff’s Department has sent out tips to prevent thefts.