Senators to DOE: Transformer Rule Threatens Reliability, National Security

Forty-seven U.S. senators are urging the Department of Energy to reject a proposed transformer rule that would further hamper the supply chain and risk grid reliability. (Photo By: Denny Gainer/NRECA)

Nearly half the U.S. Senate is asking the Department of Energy to avoid placing electricity supplies and national security at risk and halt its plan to require distribution transformers, already in short supply, to be made using less readily available amorphous steel.

“We urge the department to refrain from promulgating a final rule that will exacerbate transformer shortages at this strategically inopportune time,” a bipartisan group of 47 senators told Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in a June 1 letter.

“Such a standard could come at meaningful cost to grid reliability and national security, continuing the clean energy transition, and bolstering domestic supply chains and the workforce.”

The senators encouraged DOE instead to “convene stakeholders across the supply chain to develop [a] consensus-based approach to setting new standards.”

The department’s proposal, part of its draft Energy Conservation Standards for Distribution Transformers rule, is based on efficiency gains it says will be realized if transformers and other electrical components are made of lighter-weight but less-durable amorphous steel rather than traditional grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES).

There is currently only one domestic supplier of amorphous steel, which has a market share of less than 5%, a scenario the senators said would lead to further supply chain delays of up to two years.

“We believe the most prudent course of action is to let both GOES and amorphous steel cores coexist in the market as they do today, without government mandates, for new installations as we ramp up domestic production and reorient supply chains,” the senators wrote Granholm.

The senators also requested a briefing from DOE on its proposal and how the department might “bolster domestic supply chains and help alleviate the current and persisting supply chain challenges facing distribution transformers.”

NRECA praised the Senate effort, led by Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., for underscoring to DOE the significant electric reliability risk of the proposed rule, which the association filed formal comments on in March.

“We sincerely appreciate Sen. Hagerty and the extensive list of bipartisan cosigners for raising concerns about DOE’s proposed distribution transformer rule and its effects on national security and grid reliability. We need to support, not hamper, the domestic supply chain of distribution transformers,” said Will Mitchell, NRECA legislative affairs director.

“We look forward to working with our colleagues, senators, representatives and DOE to ensure electric reliability and efficiency solutions.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.