This time of year Ohioans know all too well how important reliable electricity is.
When storms knock out transformers and power lines, it takes too many communities too long to get the power back on. One big reason is often delays in getting new transformers – the metal boxes on power line poles.
Transformers are crucial to our electric grid, and too many power companies and co-ops are forced to wait too long to get new transformers when they stop working.
A reliable supply of efficient transformers, made with American materials, is critical to keeping the power on and keeping energy costs under control for Ohioans. And recently we’ve seen too many disruptions in that supply chain.
It’s why I introduced the bipartisan Distribution Transformer Efficiency & Supply Chain Reliability Act, to bolster the U.S. transformer supply chain, and ensure a new proposed policy at the Department of Energy doesn’t hurt domestic production of transformers.
The proposed rule risks making transformer shortages worse, requiring all new transformers to be produced with a different kind of steel that’s almost entirely manufactured overseas, rather than what’s known as “grain oriented electric steel,” which we manufacture here in Ohio.
Right now, more than 95 percent of transformers are made with this kind of steel. We can make it efficiently in America and in Ohio.
Changing the steel requirements overnight puts at risk a delicate supply chain that’s already had too many delays and disruptions. American steel manufacturers like Cleveland-Cliffs could lose business. Ohio steelworkers could lose jobs. And it could take even longer for electricity providers to get new transformers.
Our energy grids would become dependent on foreign steel, creating shortages and delays. Transformer production would slow even more, while demand is higher than ever. That could be the difference between a power outage that lasts a few hours and one that lasts days.
A few weeks ago, more than 13,000 households in Southwest Ohio lost power. Winter weather took out 4 transformers as temperatures dropped below freezing. Those Ohioans had to stay warm without heat, eat without a working fridge or oven, and lived without any light while crews worked to restore heat and electricity. If the electric company hadn’t been able to replace and repair the transformers because of supply chain shortages, the blackout could have lasted even longer. And we know this story gets repeated around the state every winter.
The Department of Energy needs to use this bill as guidance to get this policy right so we can cut down on outage times and protect Ohio steel jobs.
Sherrod Brown is the senior U.S. senator from Ohio.