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Largest transformer order in EWEB history begins “New Era” of substation rebuilds

February 03, 2023 Robyn Smith, EWEB Communications

Transformer at Holden Creek substation

Do you remember the great toilet paper shortage of 2020? Do you remember the scavenged shelves, the sign stating the limited quantity you could buy, and the anxiety of turning down the aisle to emptiness? Unlike toilet paper, there are many commodities nationwide still impacted by pandemic-related supply chain shortages, including electric distribution transformers, cable, and other critical infrastructure equipment.

EWEB has been diligent in finding creative ways to minimize the impact of equipment supply shortages, so that in a pinch, we’re not turning down the aisle to empty shelves.

 In January, our elected Board of Commissioners approved an agreement for EWEB to make an unprecedented bulk purchase of substation transformers.

“This bid secures up to 13 transformers for us over the next five years,” said Philip Peterson, EWEB systems engineer. “I’ve been at EWEB for 15 years and we’ve never purchased more than 4 transformers in a single bid before.”

“New Era” for EWEB substations

Substation transformers are a critical piece of the national electrical grid. They change, or “step down,” high voltage from power generation stations to levels that can be safely distributed to homes and businesses.

Transformers typically have a lifespan of around 35 years, depending on how they are operated, loaded, and the conditions they are installed in.  Most EWEB substations were built in the 1970s during a building boom that expanded EWEB service territory, putting many of our transformers over 40 years of age, even a few reaching 70 years old.

EWEB plans to address this aging bubble of infrastructure with 10 major substation rebuilds in the next 10 years that will increase load capacity to ensure we meet future needs and improve reliability by avoiding outages due to equipment failure.

“Most of our substations were born out of the 1970s and at that point we did a good job of designing our system with a lot of backups. Customer’s power can be fed from two or three different substations, and that’s kept us going without much rebuilding, but we recognize we’re running on borrowed time,” said Dylan Vulliety, EWEB station wire technician.

The work our crews perform in the next ten years will produce a new generation of EWEB substations, providing reliable power for customers for the next half a century and beyond.

We’re already underway with the Currin Substation near Garden Way and 105, where deconstruction of the old substation has begun and the rebuild is expected to last through 2023 and early 2024.

Crews work on deconstructing Currin substation

Supply chain shortages and long delivery windows impact planning

After 2020, supply chains and delivery windows changed for many industries and utilities were no exception. In 2021, delivery windows for transformers started jumping from one year up to three years and we haven’t seen improvement since.

The approval of this unprecedented bulk purchase of transformers will support future electric reliability projects, including the “10 Substations in 10 Years” objective. The purchase contract allows EWEB to maintain an inventory of spare transformers for unexpected occurrences, reducing equipment downtime and customer impact while avoiding the long delivery windows this equipment takes to procure.

Even with the approval of this purchase, EWEB won’t see inventory from this order delivered until spring 2024, at the earliest.

Your rates play a role in infrastructure improvements

The electricity we all rely on would not be possible without the infrastructure that delivers it.

From power plants to distribution and transmission lines, substations, and transformers — utility infrastructure is a complex system that requires investment and maintenance to provide constant, reliable power.

The rates you pay to “keep the lights on” facilitate EWEB’s major infrastructure investments through our Capital Improvement Plan for rehabilitating, replacing, and installing new infrastructure, such as substation rebuilds.

Visit eweb.org/rateinfo to learn more about what goes into your EWEB rates and what you get for your money.