ACEC Weekly NewsLine
February 02, 2011

Energy

Industry Questions Feasibility of Obama's Clean-Tech Goals

Transportation

DOT Challenges Industry on Connected Vehicle Technology

Other

Engineers Fared Better than Most in 2008 Employment




Energy

Industry Questions Feasibility of Obama's Clean-Tech Goals
Los Angeles Times (01/27/11) Hsu, Tiffany

President Barack Obama used his Jan. 25 State of the Union address to announce plans to put one million electric vehicles on the road within four years and clean power sources providing 80 percent of the nation's energy by 2035. However, industry officials are questioning whether the ambitious targets are even attainable. "It's a lofty goal, but it's like the race to the moon in that it's generally achievable," says John Cheney, chief executive of solar project developer Silverado Power. "The issue is whether we have the political will and ability to pull together and actually do it." Many clean-tech companies are struggling to recover from the recession and at the same time are facing aggressive competition from China. Some fear Obama's long range objectives will be distracting and take the focus off crucial, short-term projects. The American Wind Energy Association says the industry wants to ramp up developments right away after laboring through a major slump in 2010. "We don't need to wait nearly three decades," says Denise Bode, the group's chief executive. Other clean-tech industry executives are unhappy that Obama has grouped "clean coal" and nuclear power along with solar panels, wind turbines and biofuels as green power sources. Many executives say that before aiming for such a high clean-energy threshold, companies first need to feel more secure about financing. Obama asked Congress to swap billions of dollars in subsidies given to oil companies for clean-energy initiatives, a proposal that is likely to encounter significant resistance from the fossil fuel industry. Industry executives also say Obama needs to push for a nationwide standard on renewable power while also simplifying the patent approval process and backing more research and development efforts.
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Drillers Reviving Output In Aging U.S. Oilfields
Investor's Business Daily (01/26/11) Alster, Norm

The Permian Basin, which sits below western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, has been producing oil and gas for more than 80 years, but at recent rates below 1 million barrels a day, the Permian now yields less than one-half its peak output in 1973. New drilling techniques are breathing life into the old Permian fields, and oil firms are stepping up drilling in the area, confident that advances will unlock oil trapped in reservoirs once thought inaccessible. Energy companies are using the horizontal drilling and fracturing advances that have triggered an outburst of shale-based natural gas production. The shale gas advances so enlarged estimates for reserves that domestic natural gas prices tumbled. The oil advances will bolster American energy production and help curb oil imports slightly. For now, no one is predicting them to have a major impact in expanding reserves and reducing global oil prices. But the new technical advances, along with the current mix of high oil and low gas prices, have shifted drillers' focus from gas to oil. "We are optimistic," says Dave Hager, executive vice president for exploration and production at Devon Energy, which holds roughly 1 million acres in the Permian. "We have the potential to double total oil and gas production within the next five years." "Five years ago, people were saying the Permian Basin was mature and would be in decline from here. But now they expect increasing annual production," says Kevin Cabla, an analyst at Raymond James. "In 2002, the Permian Basin produced 17 percent of total U.S. oil. Over the next couple of years, the Permian could provide 25 percent of total U.S. output."
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Land/Buildings

A Chicago Campus Grows Up—and Up
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/21/11) P. A1; Carlson, Scott

Roosevelt University in Chicago is constructing a 32-story tower at a cost of $129 million, in keeping with the trend of having higher education structures, especially those in urban settings, bundle multiple functions together under a single roof. Included in the "vertical campus" will be student services and student life facilities, the president's office, dormitory space for over 600 students, and classrooms, offices, and labs for the college of business and for biology, physics, and chemistry. The building is designed by VOA Associates and is slated to open its doors in 2012. The tower replaces an unattractive three-decade-old student residence building, and planning for the new building started when university administrators realized that they would have to spend millions to upgrade a sprinkler system in the old residence tower. Five million tons of concrete went into the tower's foundations, while the heating and air conditioning system was installed by helicopter. Another challenge of construction is the tower's proximity to the Auditorium Building, which has a pyramidal foundation of wood that does not rot as long as it remains wet via an aquifer linked to Lake Michigan. The construction team built a "bathtub" that kept the logs hydrated while keeping dry the site where the concrete was poured. To wash the building's windows, Roosevelt will need to use custom-ordered platforms with extensions and counterweights that will help workers reach bulging sections of the tower.

At GSA, a $565 Million Success Story
Federal Times (01/23/11) Medici, Andy

Estimates show that of the $5.5 billion worth of Recovery Acts projects that the General Services Administration has managed will be delivered at $565 million under projected costs. A major reason is the struggling economy, as demand for construction fell over the last three years. Associated General Contractors of America chief economist Ken Simonson says the military's base realignment and closure products and the GSA's federal construction have kept competition among construction companies high. The product price index for new office construction fell 0.8 percent in 2010, despite raw materials costing more, due to the lack of demand. While new home and office construction fell, GSA spending for federal buildings increased. The GSA has committed to $5.2 billion of its stimulus funds and spent $1.2 billion, and is now spending $40 million to $50 million a week on more than 256 construction products. In some cases, the projects are saving tens of millions of dollars. For example, the $750 million renovation of the Commerce Department's Herbert Hoover Building was expected to cost $225 million in the second and third phases, but will only cost $185 million, a savings of $40 million. The $565 million that the GSA has managed to save will be redirected to 17 other projects, bringing the total number of the GSA's Recovery Act projects to 270. "That money was then reprogrammed for more job-creating green, high-performance building projects that will save taxpayer dollars over the long-term," says GSA spokeswoman Emily Barocas.
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Nonresidential: Commercial Environment Improves
Reed Construction Data (01/25/11) Haughey, Jim

While commercial construction spending continues to edge lower, most market drivers have become neutral or positive, indicating a potential increase in spending in the near future. The only negative indicators are year on year rental rates and construction starts, but they have stabilized recently. Lenders are loosening requirements for equity participation, which increases the availability of loans for large projects, and real estate investment trusts continue to receive new funding. Regional and local banks, however, continue to struggle with defaulted mortgages and have not yet loosened lending standards, and they are the main source of funding for smaller projects. So far investors still prefer to buy rather than build, but as asset prices for existing buildings are slowly rising, that metric will increasingly tip toward building new structures.
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Water

Constructing in a Recession
Water & Wastes Digest (01/11) Vol. 51, No. 1, P. 16; Read, J. Michael; Green, David; Worth, Clark

Oregon's Oak Lodge Sanitary District (OLSD) has been providing sewer and surface water management services since 1962 to 32,000 people in a 6.5 square mile incorporated area near Portland. In 2002, Clackamas County sought to regionalize wastewater treatment, but local residents voted in 2005 to maintain local control of its facilities. The OLSD adopted a master plan in 2007 to launch an $80 million treatment facility upgrade. A general manager was hired in January 2008 to oversee the treatment plant upgrade and keep it affordable, which was followed by the creation of a value planning team comprising senior engineers and industry experts. By evaluating capital costs, life-cycle costs, carbon footprint, and community values, an activated sludge process with Cannibal solids reduction was selected. Value planning reduced the overall project cost from $80 million to a little more than $50 million. To raise support for a proposed $44-million bond measure to fund the project, the district commissioned a 7-minute video about the planned treatment plant project and bond measure, and mailed copies of the DVD to all households and businesses in the district. The bond measure was supported by 85 percent of voters on Nov. 3, 2009, in spite the short campaign cycle and slow economy.
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The Philadelphia Single Stack Story
Plumbing Systems & Design (02/11) Vol. 10, No. 1, P. 18; Ziga, Steve

For more than 100 years Philadelphia has been using a single-stack specialty drainage, waste, and vent (DWV) system, which was recently incorporated into the International Plumbing Code (IPC). A single-stack system is comprised of a single stack rather than separate drainage and vent stacks, and it follows the basic precept that the relief of internal air pressure relies on making the system one pipe size larger than that needed for drainage purposes alone; in addition, although the pipe sizing is generally larger in a single-stack system than in a traditional DWV system, installation savings are realized by reducing the amount of vent piping required. The single-stack system is similar to other combination drainage and vent systems, although water closets and urinals can be linked to it and individual fixture drain sizes do not have to be enlarged as required in some plumbing codes. The use of the single-stack system will be permitted wherever the IPC is enforced, starting in 2012. The system is best utilized in multistory buildings with stacked toilet rooms such as condominiums, hotels, hospitals, and apartment buildings. Buildings more than 75 feet high require differently sized stack pipe diameters, while structures at least 75 feet but not over 160 feet in height above grade level at the curb require vertical soil or waste stacks connected to the house drain or to any of its branches to be one size larger. The stack must be two sizes larger if the building is higher than 160 feet. Buildings that exceed 30 stories above grade require velocity breaks to hinder the velocity of waste, while a relief vent pipe should be installed on the main drain before the main house trap within the building, and linked to the closest vent line for any building 75 feet tall or more.

Transportation

DOT Challenges Industry on Connected Vehicle Technology
Department of Transportation News Release (01/24/11)

In an effort to make vehicle travel safer, greener, and easier through the use of wireless technology, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration has announced a national competition called the Connected Vehicle Challenge. The agency is seeking ideas that use Dedicated Short Range Communications, which is faster and more secure than WiFi and can communicate messages such as imminent crash situations or roadway hazards between vehicles with no interference or manipulation by the driver. The goal is a future system of connected vehicles that communicate with each other and nearby infrastructure such as traffic signals and toll booths, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says can reduce as many as 81 percent of unimpaired vehicle crashes. The competition runs from Jan. 24 to May 1.
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'Smart Bridge' Would Keep Oklahoma Drivers Safe During Winter Weather
NewsOn6.com (01/19/11) Bryan, Emory

A technology that can warm bridges before they freeze has been around since 2001, but the cost of implementing it has kept the government from pursuing it. Researchers at Oklahoma State University built a geothermal “smart bridge” that melts ice with hot water pumped through tubes under the bridge surface that are connected to deep underground wells. The water is heated by pumping it through the hot bridge in the summer and stored underground until winter. While cost is still an obstacle for now, the geothermal technology can extend the life of a bridge and keep it safer through the winter.
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Administration Readies Transportation Plan
Associated Press (01/26/11)

According to transportation lobbyists and interest groups, the Obama administration has signaled that it plans to unveil a long-term highway and transit spending proposal after the President brings his budget to Congress in February. It is unclear, however, how big the program will be and how it will be paid for. There will be little support for a plan that boosts spending without offsets, and Congress has not acted on President Obama’s 2010 plan to spend $50 billion on highways, bridges, transit, high-speed rail, and airports. "You have a majority in the House that was elected with a mandate to cut spending,” said Brian Turmail, vice president of the Associated General Contractors of America. “It's kind of hard to understand a scenario where early on one of the things they embrace is a several hundred billion dollar spending bill." Still, many in Congress have said transportation is a high priority for them, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
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FRA Issues Guidance for Improving Safety at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings and Preventing Railroad Trespassing
Federal Railroad Administration (01/20/11)

The Federal Railroad Administration has issued new guidance aimed at reducing highway-rail grade crossing and railroad trespassing incidents to improve safety for pedestrians. Among the strategies included in the guidelines are additional law enforcement action, installing warning devices and fences, and working with Operation Lifesaver to educate and expand community outreach. “Trespassing, intentional violation of warning devices at highway-rail grade crossings and pedestrian safety need to be better addressed, and our guidance provides the means to achieve greater safety,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “These types of incidents are preventable, and lives can be saved through these strategies.”
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Other

Engineers Fared Better than Most in 2008 Employment
National Science Foundation (01/27/11) Mixon, Bobbie

A recent U.S. National Science Foundation report found that the economic recession did not impact people with doctoral degrees in science, engineering, and health (SEH) as much as it did the general population. According to the report, "Unemployment Among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Remained Below the National Average in 2008," the unemployment rate for SEH doctorate holders was 1.7 percent in October 2008, compared to the national average of 6.6 percent. In 2008, there were more than 660,000 SEH doctorate recipients, out of a total of about 752,000 nationwide, who were employed or seeking work. In addition, the number of people employed or seeking employment was 89.7 percent for women with SEH doctorate degrees and 87.4 percent for men with the same degrees. Although female SEH doctorate holders were less likely to be employed full time, they were more likely to have part-time employment. Four-year educational institutions were the most common place of employment for SEH doctorate holders in 2008 at 41.4 percent, while private for-profit firms employed about 32.6 percent of SEH doctorate recipients.
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Labor Department Withdraws Recordkeeping Proposal
Wall Street Journal (01/25/11) Trottman, Melanie

A proposal to require companies to log workplace muscle sprains and strains more carefully has been withdrawn by the Labor Department, as part of the administration’s effort to listen to the concerns of businesses regarding the impact regulation. Industry groups had said the proposal would have forced employers to define musculoskeletal disorders they were not qualified to identify, and would likely lead to broader rules on ergonomics. OSHA said it will seek more input from small business, though noted that the regulation would only have required employers to put a check mark in a new column for all musculoskeletal disorders.
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More Construction Firms Plan to Hire, Instead of Cutting, Workers in 2011 Despite Stagnant Demand, National Survey Finds
Associated General Contractors of America (01/24/11)

More construction companies are planning more hirings than firings this year, according to a survey from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Navigant, executed as part of the Construction Industry Hiring and Business Outlook. "If current trends continue, this industry will be in a much better position 12 months from now than it is today," predicts AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. He reports that 27 percent of construction firms plan to boost staff in 2011 while just 20 percent plan layoffs. In addition, growing firms intend to hire an average of 23 employees, while contracting firms plan to let go an average of 16 employees. Still, more contractors anticipate more shrinkage than growth in the construction market in 2011, with 56 percent expecting a decline in construction activity for the private office market. Fifty-two percent expect less activity in the retail, warehouse, and lodging market, while 32 percent expect growth in the the hospital and higher education market and 29 percent expect growth in the power market. Contractors' low expectations may be impelled by the fact that most firms anticipate a decline in stimulus-funded construction activity this year. "The stimulus propped up many construction jobs during the past two years," says AGC chief economist Ken Simonson. "The stimulus is already becoming a thing of the past in most contractors' minds." Less than 30 percent of firms plan to buy new construction gear in 2011, versus 34 percent that purchased equipment in 2010. However, investment levels among the companies planning to buy equipment appear to be on the rise. Survey results indicate that 29 percent of firms plan to reduce bid levels in 2011, compared to 74 percent that reported lowering bid levels in 2010. Increasing numbers of firms intend to adopt Building Information Modeling (BIM) in 2011, according to Navigant's Michael Feigin. Just 8 percent of firms presently use BIM technology, but 55 percent expect that number to climb this year. Demand for green construction is also experiencing growth, with 15 percent of firms reporting working on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design registered projects last year and 53 percent expecting that number to expand in 2011.
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States Rebuff Federal Threat Over Union Laws
BusinessWeek (01/27/11) Hananel, Sam

Four states are promising to fight the federal government in an effort to preserve individual state measures that guarantee workers the right to secret ballots in union elections. The attorneys general from Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah have pledged in a joint letter to "vigorously defend" changes to their state constitutions approved by voters on Nov. 2. The National Labor Relations Board has threatened to sue the states, arguing that the constitutional amendments conflict with current federal law. Business groups sought the constitutional amendments because they are worried that Congress could pass a new law requiring every employer to recognize a union if a majority of workers simply signed cards. The attorneys general say the legal threat is misguided, and that the federal agency should respect the will of voters in their states.
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