Transformer shortage could be made worse as hurricane season nears in Houston, experts say

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Saturday, July 1, 2023
Hurricane season in Houston marred by transformer shortage
There is transformer shortage as the City of Houston braces for an active hurricane season this summer, according to experts.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Those big cylindrical pieces of equipment attached near power lines on polls, called transformers, are now the latest victim of the supply chain.

According to the American Public Power Association, a 2018 survey showed it would take a couple of weeks to get a new transformer where it needed to go. Their latest survey shows that wait time has changed drastically.

"They are now upwards of a year, sometimes longer, to procure," Adrienne Lotto, the senior vice president of grid security and technology operations for APPA, said.

Only a handful of manufacturers stateside build some of the parts required for transformers. The rest come from overseas. Ongoing issues with importation mean prices have also jumped in some instances, with increases as much as 70%, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

RELATED: CenterPoint fixes leaning power pole in southwest Houston neighborhood after Action 13 intervenes

Time? Money? Some orders aren't worth filling to the struggling manufacturers.

"Often, manufacturers won't even take orders if they won't be able to fill them," Lotto said.

In a statement, CenterPoint Energy acknowledged the shortage, saying they are working with its operation teams daily to monitor supplies and are ready to call on mutual assistance for help if needed.

With insufficient new stock, rented and refurbished transformers are being used more than ever.

"One of the things they are doing is refurbishing their transformers. So rather than a normal useful life of 20 years, we see them bringing them back into manufacturers and asking them to refurbish them in order to get more useful life out of them while they are waiting for the supply chain restraint to ideally abate," Lotto said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 12 to 17 named storms this season, 30% above regular storm activity. Repeat storms could spell big problems for those on the coast and beyond.

"One storm, OK. Two storms, anecdotally, we will likely be OK, but what we are hearing from some of our members is three or more. We are dwindling that supply that is available on the shelf and in the stockyard and the concern is we don't want to impact keeping the lights on," Lotto said.

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Even if we make it out of storm season, some industries already feel the shortage. One being new construction and home building.

"Unfortunately, we're seeing neighborhoods that have not been able to come online, construction projects have literally slowed, even electrification, EV the ability for vehicles to come onto the grid has slowed," Lotto said.


The ABC13 Weather Team prepares you for the 2023 hurricane season

ABC13 meteorologists do say with this being an El Niño year, there is a less likely chance to see storms hitting the Texas coast multiple times.

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