"ROANOKE, Va. — A high-voltage grid transformer as big as a railroad boxcar sits on the loading dock of a factory here, ready to push power across transmission lines as an indispensable part of the nation’s electric grid.
The Virginia Transformer Corp. will ship 550 of these transformers this year and expects to produce 665 next year from its plant here and three other North American facilities. But it is one of only eight companies in the United States able to manufacture the nation’s largest transformers — and deliveries have fallen way behind schedule amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indeed, the United States is undergoing a shortage of a range of transformers — spanning smaller, pole-top units on city streets to Virginia Transformer’s massive units — for reasons that vary depending on the equipment. That means utilities could struggle to add enough new wind and solar generation to meet the country’s net-zero goals and to keep the lights on when storms damage their depleted transformer stockpiles.
On Wednesday, public power and cooperative utilities sent a letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasizing the crisis and asking the Department of Energy to use funding from the new climate law to boost U.S. production of smaller transformers. Orders for distribution transformers, they said, now take an average of one year or more to arrive."