Faced with supply chain shortages that could linger well into 2023, a Georgia distribution co-op is broadening its supplier base and repurposing unused equipment, including reclaiming around 20 transformers per month.  

“We’ve added three new suppliers for transformers, but there is a six-month lead time on deliveries, so we won’t begin receiving units from them until late spring,” said Tommy Parker, managing director of operations for Jefferson-based Jackson Electric Membership Corp. “We’re harvesting dormant and unused units from our system and deferring the installation of units until closer to build time when possible to help meet our needs and keep pace with development across our territory.” 

With more than 240,000 meters, Jackson EMC serves a growing territory northeast of Atlanta along the Interstate 85 corridor. 

Jackson EMC managers started making changes last summer when their sole-source supplier warned that steel shortages were stalling transformer orders, and global shortfalls of microchips and other electronic parts were causing back orders on meters. 

By autumn, the co-op established a team of employees from engineering and operations, purchasing, and marketing to discuss supply chain issues and how to address shortfalls.  

“Based upon projects we’ve got scheduled, we know basically what will be needed for buildouts, and once we’ve converted that into purchase orders, we know what will be needed,” said Jonathan Weaver, the co-op’s director of system engineering.  “For us, our greatest concerns were for pad-mounted single-phase transformers and AMI meters.”

The co-op used segmented data drawn from geographic information system reports to determine where they might have unused transformers. 

“We queried our GIS mapping system and located transformers across our system that don’t have active accounts tied to them,” said Parker.

In some cases, the dormant units were set in anticipation of development that has not occurred. Others were at once-occupied homes and businesses that no longer receive service. 

The co-op also used the customer information system to identify about 1,000 meters that could be harvested. 

“Our practice had been to disconnect a vacant service and leave the meter in place,” said Weaver. “We generated a list and were able to pull the meters and install covers, providing us with about a two-month supply.”  

Jackson EMC even tapped a nearby co-op for surplus AMI meters they had in stock. These meters will be reprogrammed for use on Jackson EMC’s system. Another solution was to purchase analog meters and use them in multifamily projects. 

While none of these measures is expected to save the co-op money, they have allowed it to avoid major disruptions, said Joe Dorough, the co-op’s vice president of engineering and operations. 

“Jackson EMC is working diligently to minimize the effects of the materials shortage,” said Dorough. “The recent supply chain challenges, coupled with our strong growth, have given us an opportunity to take a highly collaborative approach to how to manage the materials we use and meet our members’ needs.”