Transformer shortage impacts construction


Last updated 7/13/2022 at Noon


Electric transformers — and parts — are in short supply across the U.S. The problem is not so acute in Sisters Country, but Central Electric Cooperative is working to stay ahead of the issue.

Contractors and electric utilities nationwide are sounding the alarm over the global shortage of electric transformers — those ubiquitous green boxes or gray cylinders that sit on ground pads or hang on utility poles transforming high voltage to that which your house, office, or store can use.

A transformer is a piece of equipment that either increases or reduces the voltage as electricity is transferred across the electrical grid to customers.

Home builders are especially concerned as their projects come to a halt or are slowed, awaiting power. While it is more pronounced in other areas, Sisters Country is not immune. Central Electric Cooperative (CEC), which supplies Central Oregon, reports that inventory is currently below historical levels for some transformers.

Brent ten Pas, CEC director of member and public relations, told The Nugget: “CEC has been working with its current vendors and refurbishing manufacturers to secure new and refurbished transformers to maintain an adequate supply to meet residential and commercial demand. In addition, CEC is working with members and developers to provide transformers on a case-by-case basis for residential and commercial applications.

“Manufacturers of transformers are telling CEC it can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to deliver a transformer. Central Electric Cooperative has had some success in circumventing the supply chain delays by working with vendors who purchase, rebuild, and sell the equipment to get it sooner.”

Transformers can be repaired or refurbished, but the few shops that specialize in such service are being crushed with orders, pushing turnaround times to months from weeks as more and more transformers are being rebuilt rather than discarded.

Wildfire can destroy transformers, and the impact can be significant and widespread.

“If a catastrophic wildfire took out large segments of CEC’s electric system, we would face a significant challenge in obtaining the damaged equipment promptly,” ten Pas said. “To help combat this, CEC is part of a statewide mutual aid program to help supply labor and materials in time of need.”

Extreme weather events such as storms, wildfires, and drought are becoming more common in the United States. Consumer power use is expected to hit all-time highs this summer, which could strain electric grids at a time when federal agencies are warning the weather could pose reliability issues.

“Increasingly frequent cold snaps, heat waves, drought, and major storms continue to challenge the ability of our nation’s electric infrastructure to deliver reliable, affordable energy to consumers,” Richard Glick, chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said in late June.

According to a report by Thompson-Reuters, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the American Public Power Association told U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in a May letter that some utilities are facing waiting times of more than a year for transformer parts,

Summer is just starting, but according to data provider Refinitiv, U.S. weather so far this year has already been about 21 percent warmer than the 30-year norm — although Sisters Country has enjoyed a cooler spring extending into July.

What does it mean for Sisters construction activity? Dan Waters is a custom home design/builder specializing in larger homes on sites with two to five acres outside the city limits.

“It’s a non-issue in Sisters,” he said. “Virtually all new homes in Sisters, maybe 98 percent, are in PUDs (planned urban developments) planned out months, even years in advance. The long infrastructure build-out — sewer, water, electric — is factored into the project.”

Planned urban development is the industry term for large-scale projects like McKenzie Meadows Village, Saddlestone, Sisters Woodlands, ClearPine, and Grand Peaks, which according to builders account for the vast majority of new construction here.

“The problem for me is cable,” Waters said. “Right now I’m looking at December to get broadband to sites.”

Industry reports indicate that fiber optic cable lead times have more than doubled to 12 months.

Carl Tegan, another builder, agreed that getting electrical hookup in Sisters is not problematic. He did suggest though that delays in projects in Bend and Redmond, where demand remains high for multiunit projects, means that more buyers are choosing Sisters.

“That helps keep your home prices artificially high,” he said.

Realtors concur that, as buyers from Portland and Seattle are tapering off, Bend purchasers are plentiful.

Tegan thinks that Oregon House Bill 2120, passed last year, is a deterrent to building affordable apartments and condos in Sisters. The bill mandates EV (electric vehicle) charging stations.

“Just one more expense and wait time that builders will avoid,” he said. “It’s like bike racks. We have to put them in, whether anybody uses them or not.”

Waters has to plan more carefully and allow more lead time if his clients want Level 3 EV charging in their garage.

“That takes twice the power and about twice the time to get,” he said.

Central Electric Cooperative says that it can meet the demand for increased EV sales.


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