There are lots of references to the claim that people have stolen power through inductive coupling on the Internet:

The most common claim it that it was a farmer somewhere that noticed electricity induced by the high voltage power lines nearby through wires in his barn or his barbed wire fence and he expanded on the idea to build a coil to power his barn and/or his house and that's when he was caught.

i have heard a story that a farmer that had a barn under some high power lines and was able to steal electricity by having an induction coil under the roof. He was caught when the electric company noticed the drain in power. [Source]

I know a power line engineer - he says it gets done every so often - but if it's enough to light say, a full barn, the power company can usually measure the loses, and they start looking - he actually sent a link to an article where someone was arrested for theft. [Source]

In another case, an engineer living at a military base in England lived in a house near a radar installation. He installed induction coils in his attic that generated electricity from the radar beam. Controllers in the radar facility noticed a strange shadow on their screens and he was caught. Source

There have even been a couple of references in StackExchange comments.

But none of the references I've seen have given enough specific details to verify the story, so it sounds like an urban legend that has no basis in fact.

Has anyone ever been arrested or otherwise caught by the power company by stealing power through inductive coupling through a coil of wire or long wire running parallel to the power lines? (Note that I'm not talking about physically tapping into power lines to steal power, just inductive coupling that does not touch the power lines or electrical towers).

It does seem to be theoretically possible to access some small amount of power from high voltage lines, even while some distance away from the power lines, but has anyone actually stolen enough power this way to get detected by the power company and/or arrested?

Does anyone know of a documented case where power was stolen in this way and the thief was caught?

  • 3
    Related question: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/3520/… – Oddthinking Nov 15 '14 at 2:38
  • At least here in germany, it is unclear whether "stealing" via induction is really stealing, the corresponding law explicitly states that a conductor is necessary. There have been lots of urban myths about it being forbidden, but the fact is that near lots of high power mid wave radio stations you automatically "steal" lots of power, e.g. just by having a neon tube installed in the "correct" direction. – PlasmaHH Nov 17 '14 at 12:14
  • @Oddthinking: Isn't this question even more or less a duplicate of the question you're linking to? IMHO, the answer to the linked question is however incorrect. It uses the amount of current induced by accident in a parallel running fence to claim that it's not possible to harvest enough energy to power a household. Using a coil tuned to the AC frequency would be much more efficient than a single wire (as in the fence). – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Nov 18 '14 at 19:33
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo: It is a tricky one. One is asking "Is it possible?" The other is asking "Has anyone been arrested for it?" If the answer to the first is No, the answer to the second is probably No. (But consider "Can you predict Earthquakes?" and "Has anyone been arrested for not predicting an earthquake?" [and gloss over the finer details].) – Oddthinking Nov 19 '14 at 0:32
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    I helped out a farmer once who ran his electric fence under a power line, effectively powering it for free. He wasn't arrested to date. – SBoss Nov 24 '14 at 9:07

This method of stealing power by inductive coupling is highly inefficient and impractical per calculations of a physics expert with examples mentioned here. There is also serious doubt whether any farmer has actually done this for powering his farm and got caught by the authorities since practically the power stolen by a single farmer would most likely be too small to be detected by the power company.

The calculation of theft by the power company would be by knowing the difference between the power that was being delivered and the power that was being purchased. The resultant unexplained neglible difference of power (beyond the usual power loses via resistive heating along transmission lines) might be a result of someone stealing power. The application of Faraday's law by the farmer will essentially result into a power transformer with a very low efficiency both by cost (the cost of wire required for inductive coupling) and time (the payback period for the cost incurred for the inductive coupling apparatus and the savings incurred from it) and the nontraceable Idaho farmer mentioned in one of the sources will not incur any profit or savings from this stealing process.

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