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The official voice of West Florida Electric Cooperative:

February 2023

Mobile Substations Bring Versatility, Reliability to WFEC

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When it comes to providing reliable power to WFEC’s 28,000 meters, substations are vital. If equipment failure happens inside a substation, especially with the substation transformer, it could leave thousands of homes and businesses in the dark.

While outages do happen, whether planned or unplanned, it is WFEC’s primary mission to ensure dependable electric service year-round. One way we do this is through our use of mobile substations, owned and operated by our wholesale power provider, PowerSouth.

These movable units are a backup plan that give us a versatile power supply.

Substations, and the importance of mobility.

Substations house transformers that change (or transform) voltage from high to low or reverse. When electricity is generated at power plants its voltage is much too high for residential use. The solution is for electric power to flow through a complex channel of substations – where voltage may be reduced or increased several times - on its path from a generating plant to your home or business.

But what happens if a substation must be deenergized for repair or if there is a prolonged outage?

Mobile substations keep reliable power flowing.

These mobile substations can be moved where crews need them. 

“We try to build our fleet to cover several contingency scenarios to ensure reliable power to the end-use member,” said Brian Salter, PowerSouth’s Substation O&M Manager. “Whether an outage is planned or unplanned, we can mobilize these units to serve as a temporary delivery point when stations are taken out of service for maintenance or if equipment in a substation has failed. We use them across our entire service territory, including northwest Florida. They are extremely valuable tools.”

The value of mobile substations is unmatched, and that is part of the reason they come with a hefty price tag. PowerSouth currently has only five distribution-class units in its fleet.

“The limited number is due to a combination of cost and necessity,” Salter said. “Mobile subs run from about $2.5 million to $3 million now.”

Getting there is half the battle.

Transporting and installing mobile substations is a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. These units can weigh as much as 170,000 pounds and measure as long as 120 feet. They are transported via tractor-trailer and require Department of Transportation approval permits for oversized and overweight loads, as well as special routing.

How long a mobile substation takes to arrive at its destination depends on location proximity, but installing a mobile unit can take nearly three hours. The installation process often requires building new transmission lines or re-routing existing lines, building roads and other site work to support the massive equipment’s weight.

When operating, mobile substations absorb the power load of permanent substations while crews perform restoration or maintenance work.

A steady supply or reliable power requires a team.

Because there is so much involved in transporting and installing mobile substations, the process requires careful coordination and planning between WFEC and PowerSouth. When possible, these substations are safely installed with zero outages to members. It's a testament to great teamwork when they are installed for maintenance and upgrade purposes while impacting members as little as possible.

At WFEC, we understand a steady supply of electricity to your homes and businesses is a necessity rather than a luxury. We take all measures to keep the lights on year round, but sometimes backup plans are necessary.

That’s the value of a mobile substation.