With inventories of distribution transformers diminishing and reliability at stake, electric cooperatives and public utilities are urging the U.S. Department of Energy to immediately suspend certain efficiency rules on transformer manufacturers in order to increase production as summer storm season looms.

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson and Joy Ditto, CEO of the American Public Power Association, wrote Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm requesting an immediate temporary waiver of the energy conservation standard on distribution transformers to avoid potential electric reliability impacts for millions of Americans.

“We are concerned that if this issue is not addressed quickly, we could face instances during this upcoming storm season when timely restoration of electric service for some customers simply won't be possible because of a lack of transformers," Matheson and Ditto wrote on May 26.

“[W]e urge you to temporarily waive the energy conservation standard for distribution transformers to make it possible for manufacturers to increase output as much as possible until this immediate crisis has abated."

DOE's conservation standards stem from the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and call on manufacturers to increase the efficiency of certain industrial products, including distribution transformers. Suspending the rule for transformers would allow the use of less-thick core steel, effectively boosting the number of units that can be made without increasing steel needs.

“By relieving manufacturers of the current requirement, raw steel materials used to make distribution transformers can be spread further and result in higher production that our members need," they wrote. “This is a concrete step you can take today to increase transformer availability and address a potential electric reliability issue."

U.S. utilities have been coping for more than a year with supply chain bottlenecks attributed mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating unprecedented challenges in procuring equipment to build new lines or restore service following natural disasters.

Many are concerned about their ability to respond to this year's predicted above-average storm season because their transformer stocks are depleted and deliveries are delayed and unpredictable.

“Transformers pose a particularly acute problem as our members are now facing lead times of more than a year for delivery and in many cases, are being limited in the number they are allowed to purchase," the CEOs wrote.