Shortage of transformers affecting local utility companies

On a gray gravel field on the northern outskirts of Starkville, more than a dozen old, decommissioned electrical transformers sit idle, at least for now.

Normally, Starkville’s Utilities Department would phase out obsolete equipment to replace it as funds permit. A nationwide transformer shortage has made it difficult to access new equipment, SUD chief executive Edward Kemp said, so older transformers will soon take over.

“The new strategy is to take (transformers) that have failed and send them off to be reused because some of their steel components are good, Kemp said. “You can use them and put them back into use. They aren’t as efficient as a brand new transformer, but it’s better than not having one at all. … We take and rehabilitate everyone we can who have failed and try to find new ones.

On Tuesday, the college of aldermen declared transformers and power grid components as emergency purchases. It’s in agreementPresidential order from June, which allows to declare the components of the electrical network as emergency purchases. This will allow Kemp to purchase these components when it finds them without the need for pre-approval or a bidding process, and the aldermen will ratify the purchases on its claims file.

The declaration of aldermen and presidential determination is possible thanks to the Defense Production Act of 1950, which allows the presidential power to declare certain national productions of goods in time of war or national emergency.

Still, Kemp told The Dispatch right now that getting new Transformers can take anywhere from six months to a year, if they can be found at all. While repurposing will work in a pinch, new transformers are more energy efficient and more reliable.

The shortage of transformers stems from a shortage of supplies used to make them, including a specific grade of steel used to make the core of the unit. Kemp also said he thinks winter storms in Texas last year had a ripple effect.

“Transformers are very rare right now,” Kemp said. “…They are needed. We have a very real and very disturbing issue that is worrying a lot of people in the electrical industry right now. »

Transformers are used to provide electricity to homes and businesses by “stepping down” the voltage of power lines. There are two main types of transformers used by SUD: pole mounted and pad mounted.

Pad mounted transformers are used for underground services for a good portion of new housing estates and developments. Pole mounted transformers are used for above ground power lines to distribute electricity in often older residential and commercial developments.

SUD supplies power to about 14,000 residential customers and 1,000 commercial customers, Kemp said.

The amount of electricity distributed and the number of homes or businesses served depends on the size and type of transformer, Kemp said. A standard pole-mounted transformer is typically about three feet tall and two feet in diameter, and a single one can power between four and ten homes depending on the electricity load needed.

Kemp said SUD is primarily looking for six pad-mounted transformers, which are used for underground services for a good portion of new housing estates and developments.

“We have developments coming online in the near future that will require pad-mounted transformers, and we really hope we can find some before they need this service,” Kemp said. “We could use half a dozen right now, but really, critically, we need two to three. … There are other ways to provide services that aren’t ideal, that we wouldn’t usually do, but that we would do before saying, “You can’t think of (starting a business or expanding). We would use pole-mounted transformers the same way we would use a pad-mounted transformer, and then eventually had to step in and replace it with a real pad-mounted transformer.

SUD will look at suppliers it has used in the past for processors, but it also intends to look beyond those suppliers to find other sources of supply.

“There are a few different manufacturers of transformers,” Kemp said. “The problem is that everyone is queuing up to buy whatever they can find. It is based on a first come, first served basis, how long you have been a customer, if you have purchased wholesale from (the manufacturer) in the past. You just do the best you can. I don’t think we’re in critical condition right now, but I appreciate the mayor and board giving us that flexibility if we find it. »

Columbus Light and water

The Columbus Light and Water board has yet to declare the transformers an emergency purchase, but the department is feeling pressure from material shortages.

Marc Rushing, director of CLW’s electrical division, said he was one major storm away from needing to find transformers.

“At this point, we don’t need just one type of transformer,” Rushing said. “We started increasing our inventory after the 2014 tornado so we would have enough material to get by in a major storm. However, we are still only a storm away from calling on all sources for transformers and other power line hardware to keep our customers’ lights on.

Rushing said prices and delivery times have changed over the past four years. He said a standard pole-mounted transformer now costs around $2,800 with a lead time of 60 weeks. In 2018, it cost around $900 with a delivery time of six to eight weeks.

CLW general manager Angela Verdell said she is always looking for ways to buy new transformers despite the cost of maintaining older transformers impacting business.

“We continue to work closely with our transformer suppliers to source them when they are available,” Verdell said. “We also participate in a support network in the TVA region as well as nationally to help find the necessary units. We experience higher maintenance costs due to the need to reuse older transformers that are not available for purchase. Many of them have reached their recommended lifespan. …These are just a few of the challenges we strive to overcome to ensure reliable and accessible power to the community.

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