How NLI Deals With Material Shortages

NLI stockpiles pad mount transformers in this area. Due to material shortages, only limited sizes are in stock. Photo by Kristin Mettke

Material shortages have been a concern for Northern Lights Inc. (NLI) this past year. Like many industries, we also have faced supply chain issues. The high demand for new services this past year and a half has strained what work we can accomplish.

NLI places bulk orders for materials well ahead of busy construction months. Lead times typically are a few weeks or months out on large orders for transformers, underground cable, wire, poles, and meters. NLI placed larger-than-normal orders for many items early this year in anticipation of the busy construction season.

In the case of pad-mount transformers for underground services and meters, the advance ordering did not help. Orders we placed in February have been delayed repeatedly.

We have yet to receive some items. Other utilities are experiencing the same issue, so we are not able to ask our fellow cooperatives for help, as we often can.

With Hurricane Ida wreaking havoc on the eastern U.S. power system, we anticipate delays will be even longer as materials are prioritized for power restoration.

We did receive many materials without issue and have plenty in stock should we need to make emergency repairs. However, the material supply issue may delay some members who requested new services this year.

NLI has installed new services as much as possible and will come back to install pad-mount transformers once we receive them. This has been frustrating for NLI, and we know it is for members, too.

We have found creative ways to get extra materials.

We reviewed inactive services, and for those not willing to pay the account minimum to keep their equipment installed, we sent a service retirement notice. Transformers and meters from these services can be used in other locations if the size is appropriate and the equipment is in good working order.

We have also purchased a limited quantity of refurbished transformers and meters. We had a number of transformer bases manufactured locally by a small fabrication shop.

We have reprioritized maintenance projects this year, working on those for which we have plenty of materials available. Pole replacements have continued because we have plenty of wood poles and are able to get more.

We are keeping a close watch on our materials in stock to make sure we have plenty should a nasty storm hit us this fall. We thank members for their patience and understanding while waiting for new services to be installed.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.