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Thieves Target Solar Panels

POSTED: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 - 7:23am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:58pm

Solar panels are a hot commodity as more homes and business go 'green'. So hot, they've become a target of thieves. And one of the hardest hit areas? California's wine country. Many wineries have installed solar panels in their vineyards to save energy. Robert Deleuze of ZD Wines points to one of their banks of solar panels nestled into a hillside. The arrays are massive. "500 feet long, 18 feet wide, has 700 panels on it", Deleuze said.

DV Wines has lost about 75-thousand dollars worth of panels in the past ten months. "they had to know what they were doing", said Deleuze. "They had to disconnect the electricity properly and did it quite efficiently."

The Napa County Sheriff's Department says the thieves have hit 16 times so far, helping themselves to the high priced panels. They believe several groups of highly organized thieves are responsible. "I believe a lot of them are being resold whether to other businesses or resold through a solar company or individuals selling them and installing them", said Deleuze. "I'd like them to know if they come here anymore going to have a hard time."

ZD wines has now covered every bolt with epoxy and put tamper proof labeling on each panel. Robert Deleuze says he's committed to solar energy but determined not to get ripped off again. "I would like them to know we've got a lot of people working on catching them and we hope to see them in jail."

California is the nation's biggest market for solar power systems with over 30-thousand installations. Homes and businesses all over the state are experiencing thefts, prompting some police departments to scour sites like Craigslist and eBay looking for stolen panels.

Authorities suggest engraving a drivers license number or other info onto solar panels to help recover them if stolen.