By - Jim Vess

How Can You Get a Spare Transformer Yesterday?


By Jim Vess

In its Quadrennial Energy Review just released in April, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) stressed the importance of a having inventory of spare high voltage (HV) transformers and other essential transmission equipment. The report said that current programs may not be adequate to address the vulnerability of the U.S. transmission grid to catastrophic events – such as cyberattacks, physical attacks, natural disasters, and extreme weather. DOE is currently studying possible solutions through its Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Following a natural disaster or terrorist attack, restoration of the transmission grid can be delayed for months by the long lead times often required to design, build and deliver critical replacement equipment including large transformers, circuit breakers and other specialized electrical components. The costs of replacing damaged equipment is compounded by the lost revenue due to extended time the transmission system is out of service.

Grid Assurance, a limited liability company formed by a group of eight energy companies – affiliates of American Electric Power Company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy Company, Duke Energy Corporation, Edison International, Eversource Energy, Exelon Corporation, Great Plains Energy, and Southern Company – proposes to address this issue. The company would own an inventory of large, mobile HV transformers, circuit breakers and other essential transmission equipment and warehouse them at secured strategic locations throughout the United States. This would provide subscribing transmission owners with timely access to equipment that can take months to acquire through traditional channels. The Grid Assurance model would also be more cost-effective than companies independently maintaining spare equipment.

As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, the Edison Electric Institute created the Spare Transformer Equipment Program (STEP), a stockpile of transformers that utilities could call on following a presidential emergency declaration after a terrorist attack. Grid Assurance would complement STEP and any existing programs transmission owners may have by making available a more comprehensive stockpile of critical transmission equipment.

Grid Assurance will not be regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but the new company has petitioned FERC to clarify that its service will meet requirements of FERC’s grid physical security regulations. The petition also asks FERC to agree that purchases and sales of spare equipment by Grid Assurance would not require FERC’s prior authorization.

Grid Assurance intends to charge cost-based subscription fees, similar to FERC-regulated transmission formula rates. These cost-based subscription fees are expected to facilitate subscribers’ ability to recover expenses. Depending on regulatory approvals, the company is expecting to begin accepting subscribers and identifying available inventory in 2016.

While it may not be as convenient and quick as going through a drive-through or ordering a pizza for delivery, having a stockpile of mobile HV transformers – such as those being designed and built by ABB and Delta Star – and other essential transmission equipment located nearby and readily available will be more convenient and the electric transmission system will be able to be restored much quicker than it is traditionally done currently.

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