CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The utility industry is the newest victim of supply chain shortages. This comes as transformers and other equipment are in high demand due to hurricane season.
“There is nobody…there’s no utility that’s in the electric business that’s not impacted by this,” said Thomas Harvey, the Manager of Distribution Operations for Berkeley Electric Cooperative. “It takes a long time right now to buy and receive distribution transformers.”
Transformers take high-voltage electricity from a power plant and break it down to voltage levels that can be safely used in a home or business.
If there aren’t enough transformers, the customer on the end of the line will not be able to access electricity.
“As an electric utility, there are a few key components that we cannot operate without. There’s some things that we’ve got flexibility around, that we use every day that, I guess you could say we could do without if we had to, but obviously transformers, cable, wire, insulators, poles, that kind of stuff, we have to have every day,” said Harvey.
During hurricane season, transformers and other equipment are more highly in demand as large storms can heavily damage the power grid and knock out power lines, transformers, and more.
Should damage be done to the grid, it can mean longer or more widespread power outages for customers.
For example, Harvey says during power restoration after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Berkeley Electric set up thousands of new transformers to replace those that were knocked out.
News 2 reached out to Lowcountry utility companies including Dominion Energy, Berkeley Electric Cooperative, and Santee Cooper to determine if customers will see an impact from a shortage of transformers.
“The entire industry is really seeing a lag time for when they get their transformers. So, that’s a really important thing for us to be prepared for,” said Nicole Aiello, a spokesperson for Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility.
Aiello says it’s important for utility companies to have a backup supply of equipment, including transformers because of storms or other problems.
“Transformers are on a maintenance schedule just like any other equipment that we have. But, there can be mechanical issues with a transformer where it might go out before it’s time for it to be maintenanced,” said Aiello. “We have to be prepared ahead of time to make sure we have enough supply and enough working material in case something like that happens.”
Aiello says while Santee Cooper is working closely with their supply partners and keeping an eye on the shortages, they currently do have backup supplies.
“We do have enough supply at this point. It is a fluid situation, we’re watching the challenges closely, we’re making sure that we plan for possible shortages, but at this point, Santee Cooper is prepared.”
Berkeley Electric Cooperative:
Berkeley Electric Cooperative says it’s a multi-faceted problem.
“One, because the cost continues to go up,” said Harvey. “That’s a big deal. When you’re a member-owned, not-for-profit organization, it’s always imperative to try to control costs for your members. But, the other thing is you have to be able to get them. Whatever the cost is, you have to be able to have them.”
Harvey says Berkeley Electric is only just receiving transformers that were ordered in November.
He says they have an adequate backup supply, but if needed, they could ask for help from other cooperatives around the country.
“We have agreements with other cooperatives across the state and country to not only secure manpower resources but any resources that one cooperative needs.”
Harvey is hopeful the supply shortage concerns will be resolved in the new year.
“I think after the first of the year, our transformer concern is relieved some.”
Dominion Energy, one of the largest power suppliers in the Southeast, sent the following statement to News 2 in regard to the transformer shortage.
“Like many companies across the globe, Dominion Energy is facing supply chain challenges and increased lead times for some materials, including transformers. While there has been no immediate impact on our ability to keep the energy flowing for our customers and the communities we serve, Dominion Energy is proactively working with key suppliers and business partners to identify potential issues and develop strategies to combat these supply chain disruptions.-Paul Fischer, Dominion Energy
Utility companies say they are prepared to keep electricity flowing to customers and are hopeful any possible storms this hurricane season will cause little to no damage to the power grid.
Despite a slow start, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an active hurricane season.