By Kevon Storie 

A transformer is a critical link in the transmission system, the failure of which can cause big problems ranging from power outages to fire. Replacing them, moreover, is not simply a matter of calling a warehouse for an off-the-shelf part. This made transformer acquisition a logical early focus for WAPA’s Asset Management program and Procurement department.

Historically, the lead time for purchasing large-power transformers has been as long as two years. Faced with aging infrastructure, growing security threats to physical sites and an increase in extreme weather events, WAPA needed to streamline the process to ensure reliability and grid resilience. 

“WAPA needed a more strategic and systematic process for acquiring large power transformers,” said Asset Planning Manager Chris Lyles, “a process that could be used for all transformer acquisitions, including capital replacements, new installations and emergency replacements.” 

Standard specifications prove challenging 

The first step in streamlining the acquisition process sounds deceptively simple: Develop a list of standard specifications for transformers and identify vendor requirements. 

However, transformers are geographically sensitive, making standardization in a territory as vast as WAPA’s anything but easy. “Although the equipment does roughly the same job in the desert as it does in the Midwest, those transformers have different specifications,” Lyles explained. “Even individual substation crews had specific needs and preferences.” 

Input from subject matter experts, knowledgeable field crews and electrical engineers was critical in compiling a list that meets the needs of all of WAPA’s regions. With their experience in using various contracting mechanisms for procuring high valued assets, Procurement specialists played a key role in identifying vendor selection criteria, as well. 

After determining how many transformers WAPA would need in the coming year and forecasting the number for the next three to four years, the project team was ready for the next step. 

“We are entering into a contract for an eight- or nine-year term,” Lyles said. “A long-term contract with a single vendor is significantly different from the typical one-off purchases with multiple vendors we have become accustomed to.” 

Goal in sight 

A great deal of effort has gone into resolving the many competing factors in standardizing transformer acquisition. 

The project team spent hours talking to subject matter experts knowledgeable in transformer requirements, consulting with field crews who have specific asset fabrication needs, collecting data on previous purchases, interviewing equipment manufacturers and vendors and consulting risk experts. 

“But we only have to go through the process once,” Lyles pointed out, “and it will help us cut the lead time for transformer acquisition by as much as half. Once a long-term contract is established, WAPA can begin working with the selected vendor to ensure we get a more reliable and appropriate product to serve our transmission needs.” 

The shorter lead time, along with a more thorough understanding of equipment needs that arose from the research, should have a positive impact on grid resilience and performance. 

“It will also help to reduce procurement acquisition costs,” Lyles added. “This is where strategic procurement plans and asset management really show their value.” 

Note: Storie is a technical writer who works under the Wyandotte Services contract.

Last modified on September 12th, 2023