ACEC Weekly NewsLine
July 27, 2011

Energy

New Federal Rule Could Spur More Energy Projects

Transportation

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Benefits From BrIM
Infrastructure Bank Could Lure Private Funds into Public Works



Energy

New Federal Rule Could Spur More Energy Projects
Wall Street Journal (07/22/11) Smith, Rebecca

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a major rule change on July 21 that they said would lead to more big electricity transmission lines getting built in the United States. The new order should particularly benefit wind- and solar-energy projects, which are often located in remote places that are poorly served by existing interstate transmission lines, according to FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. The new rules are meant to inject more competition into the process and, potentially, reduce costs. Barriers that have stymied construction of new multi-state transmission lines will be removed in part by allowing companies other than local utilities to build segments of the transmission projects. The new rules are also intended to ensure that the costs of transmission lines are borne by the utility customers who get the most benefit from them. In the past, rural utilities have objected to projects where their customers would bear the cost of building transmission lines even though most of the electricity would go to customers in cities farther away. Wellinghoff says 60 percent of the new U.S. generating capacity expected to be built by 2019 consists of wind and solar projects, many of which will need new transmission lines to succeed. He notes developers have talked to him about wanting to build major transmission lines from renewable resources in the Dakotas to consumers in Chicago, as well as from Oklahoma to cities in the Southeast and from Montana to California. The new rule, by establishing a more equitable system for paying for transmission lines, will encourage developers to proceed, Wellinghoff says. Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industry Association, says that FERC's action will help the "solar industry overcome a significant hurdle impeding the development of the more than 25 gigawatts" of projects in the pipeline currently.

Split Within Nuclear Regulatory Agency
New York Times (07/21/11) Wald, Matthew

A majority of the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission is resisting a proposal by the chairman, Gregory Jaczko, that the commission act promptly on all the new recommendations from its staff on how to reduce the chance of a Fukushima-type accident at an American reactor. This is not the first indication of conflict within the agency. The commission's inspector general reported in June that some staff members were troubled by Jaczko's aggressive management style and by his decision to halt the staff's work on an Energy Department proposal to build a nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert. The Obama administration has shelved that project, drawing criticism from many Republican members of Congress. On July 20, a day after the task force briefed the commissioners on the post-Fukushima report, one member, William Magwood IV, posted a statement at the commission's Web site asserting that the task force had worked "without the benefit of the full analytical resources of the agency." Given its 90-day mandate, "it was not possible to give all issues the consideration they deserve," he wrote. Another member, Kristine Svinicki, posted a statement that said, "I do not have a sufficient basis to accept or reject the recommendations of the Near-Term Task Force." She said the agency should "proceed with the systematic and methodical review of lessons learned." Both commissioners noted that the task force had found no imminent threat to public health and safety from continued operation of the nation's 104 power reactors, or from extending their licenses. A third commissioner, William Ostendorff, said at the July 19 hearing, "I personally do not believe that our existing regulatory framework is broken." The task force recommended some specific improvements and some sweeping reforms, like integrating decades of regulations and informal changes in operating practices into a single framework that systematically addresses the full range of safety risks.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Land/Buildings

A Debt-Limit Deal Between Democrats and Republicans Could Mean Construction Spending Cuts
Engineering News-Record (07/25/11) Ichniowski, Tom

The struggling construction industry, with its many federally funded projects, may be further hampered if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling and initiates further spending cuts to construction-related projects. Failure to raise the debt ceiling would potentially cause a jump in interest rates making it difficult to find credit to fund new projects, as would cutting spending in the many infrastructure programs the industry relies on. Repercussions would be felt in single-family housing starts, commercial-building, institutional construction, and public works projects. President Obama, who has pushed for raising the debt limit through next year and reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, appears to support the July 19 Senate “Gang of Six” proposal to cut the deficit by $3.7 trillion over 10 years, with $500 billion in immediate cuts. Preliminary plans include reforms to increase the Highway Trust Fund by $133 billion by 2021. Cuts to discretionary spending may target public works projects, or may lead the way to recovery by creating favorable bond-market conditions that attract private sector funds to offset declines in federal funds.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Apartments Are the Development Du Jour Among Builders
Los Angeles Times (07/17/11) Vincent, Roger

Apartments are now the most popular class of commercial real estate for both buyers and builders, as the sluggish economic recovery has made renting the preference among those people looking to save money and retain mobility. "The next decade is likely to be the most profitable for our industry in the last 20 years," said Charles Brindell Jr., president of Mill Creek Residential Trust.

UCLA professor Stuart Gabriel says that with demographic and generational changes, renters in their 20s and 30s are delaying marriage and having children and favor mobility as they advance in their careers. Other younger Americans who had moved back in with their parents or with their friends during the economic crisis are now expected to move out and rent their own apartments when they become more secure about their employment.

All of this puts apartment owners in a great position, and developers are taking advantage as well by building up new inventory. In Los Angeles, permits were issued to build nearly 1000 new apartments in May alone, which is the highest rate since November 2008 according to the Construction Industry Research Board. Brindell says that it is unlikely that over-building will be a problem in the near future, as post-crisis downsizing means developers have less production capacity and access to financing is still limited.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Innovative Victoria University Building Breaks New Ground
The Dominion Post (07/19/11)

The Alan McDermott building at Victoria University has been selected as a finalist in the Association of Consulting Engineers annual Innovate awards for the buildings pioneering use of a new earthquake-dampening technology. The Innovate awards recognize innovation in engineering structures, processes and services. The building is the first multi-story building in New Zealand to use precast seismic structural systems (Presses), which use unbonded post-tensioning to enable a controlled rocking of joints. The controlled rocking softens the force of an earthquake on the building by allowing the building to bend and spring back upright without significant structural damage, even during a major earthquake. The building's system reduces movement almost as much as base-isolation, but at a fraction of the cost. The system was recently proven when an earthquake hit the new Southern Cross Hospital endoscopy building in Richmond, Christchurch. The hospital sustained minor damage, but it was soon operational and used as a supplementary triage center. Other finalists for the Innovate awards include the SH2 Dowse to Petone highway upgrade in Zealandia, the Karori Sanctuary Experience, and the International Passenger Terminal stage two at Wellington Airport.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Solar Panels Provide Cool Extra Benefit
iStockAnalyst (07/18/11)

Jan Kleissl, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), says solar panels on the rooftops of office buildings can do more than produce electricity. They can reduce cooling and heating costs. Kleissl's thermal imaging research has determined that a building's ceiling could be 5 degrees cooler during the day under solar panels that under an exposed roof. Furthermore, at night, the panels help hold heat in, reducing heating costs in the winter. He add that the panels essentially act as roof shades. So, instead of the sun beating down onto the roof and pushing heat through and inside the ceiling, photovoltaic panels "take the solar beating" and essentially shade the roof. In a test of a building on the UCSD campus, panels reduced the amount of heat reaching the roof by nearly 38 percent. Kleissl concludes, "There are more efficient ways to passively cool buildings, such as reflective roof membranes. But, if you are considering installing solar photovoltaic, depending on your roof thermal properties, you can expect a large reduction in the amount of energy you use to cool your residence or business."
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Water

Maine Tidal Energy Firm Looks to Maritimes
Associated Press (07/19/11) Sharp, David

Portland, Maine-based Ocean Renewable Power Co. is partnering with a Canadian project developer to break into a much larger market by installing underwater turbines off the coast of Nova Scotia. The tidal power company and Nova Scotia-based Fundy Tidal Inc. plan to install underwater turbines in the Petit Passage off western Nova Scotia in the fall of 2012, about six months after installing Ocean Renewable's turbines off eastern Maine. The state shares the Bay of Fundy with Canada, and development potential in Canadian waters "is 10 times larger" than what's in Maine, says John Ferland, Ocean Renewable's vice president. Ocean Renewable formed ORPC Nova Scotia Ltd., a subsidiary that will do business in Nova Scotia. The goal in the Petit Passage is to install about 15 to 20 of Ocean Renewable's tidal power units, says Dana Morin, president of Fundy Tidal Inc. Ocean Renewable, which has tested its system in the waters of Eastport and Lubec, is also planning to install a similar-sized system off eastern Maine. That project, aimed at producing 3.2 megawatts for the power grid, was pushed back from this fall until May 2012 because of delays of regulatory approvals and a desire to avoid installing turbines in the winter. Officials estimate that up to 2,500 megawatts of energy could be safely tapped from the Bay of Fundy. Tidal power proponents note that tides, unlike wind, are predictable, and water's greater density means fewer turbines are needed to create the same amount of power. However, the harsh marine environment produces its own challenges for engineers. Ocean Renewable's tidal power units use rotating foils.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Transportation

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Benefits From BrIM
Structural Engineer (06/11) Abbas, Ali H.; Abbas, Sajid; Maroney, Brian

Three-dimensional, data-driven, and intelligent object-oriented bridge information modeling (BrIM) helps eliminate potential conflicts such as connection details and geometry, rebar placement, and post-tensioning hardware, that can lead to construction delays, disputes, and expensive claims for the owner. BrIM, similar to the building information modeling (BIM) used for building construction, is the process of documenting bridge geometry and other data through the project design that results in an accurate model including bridge geometry, material and section properties, quantities, erection sequences, and maintenance data. BrIM can be used to generate 3D models of pre-stressed concrete segmental bridges, 2D design drawings, and shop drawings for fabrication shops building steel bridges, which represents substantial savings in time and money by eliminating potential conflicts and delays. The next step in BrIM will be the creation of real time animations stimulating the construction process and a virtual simulation of the erection sequence that is rational, efficient, practical, time, and cost efficient. Subsequently, once the bridge is built, BrIM models can be used to develop a maintenance schedule, with periodic updates reflecting newly available data and technology. Detailed BrIM software packages are available from Autodesk’s AutoCAD, Navisworks Manage, and Revit; and Bentley’s Microstation, RM Bridge, ProSteel 3D, and Rebar. Tekla Structures provides software for modeling large steel and reinforced concrete structures, with bridge concrete profiles being generated in AutoCAD or Microstation. Many of these systems are currently in use in projects around the United States.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Infrastructure Bank Could Lure Private Funds into Public Works
Reuters (07/20/11) Lambert, Lisa

A Senate panel of lawmakers heard from a diverse group of panelists who support the creation of a U.S. infrastructure bank. An infrastructure bank would provide a base of capital and signal investors that the government is prioritizing transportation projects, which would attract private capital for public works projects. President Obama has requested $5 billion a year for six years for an infrastructure bank. In public-private partnerships, or P3s, private roads are leased to and maintained by private companies that collect tolls and get tax credits offsetting the road’s depreciation. "While many states and local governments are focusing on these matters, top-down leadership is also needed that includes a vision for the country and common P3 principles," says Morgan Stanley & Co, LLC managing director, J. Perry Offutt. Over the last five years, 30 of the largest infrastructure equity funds have raised $180 billion for transportation projects. The bank would help leverage more private-sector dollars, in addition to being able to provide grants, loans, and loan guarantees, and to coordinate and consolidate other federal financing programs. "Rigorous benefit-cost analysis would focus funding on those projects that produce the greatest long-term public benefits at the lowest cost to the taxpayer," says assistant secretary for transportation policy, Polly Trottenberg. "This is achieved, in part, by encouraging private sector participation in projects in order for them to be competitive."
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Critical Aviation Projects Come to a Halt Due to Congressional Inaction
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (07/25/11)

Contractors have been told to stop work on critical airport modernization projects around the United States after Congress failed to pass legislation giving the FAA the authority necessary for work to continue. Dozens of stop work orders have been issued for major projects designed to build and modernize control towers and other aviation infrastructure.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Research Report Points Out Road to Energy Savings; U.S. Could Save 5 Billion Gallons of Fuel Per Year
ForConstructionPros.com (07/19/2011)

Smooth pavements reduce rolling resistance resulting in huge energy savings, according to a meta analysis of 20 studies by researchers at Auburn University. Making modest road improvements could net up to 3.7 billion gallons of gasoline and 1.3 billion gallons of diesel in the United States each year, with projected savings of $12.5 billion. Rolling resistance, or the force need to keep tires rolling is affected by the stiffness of the tire and imperfections in the road’s surface. Improving the surface of the road even slightly reduces fuel consumption from 1.8 percent to as much as 4.5 percent. Given that vehicles on U.S. highways consumed 168 billion gallons of gas and diesel in 2009, a conservative estimate of a two percent reduction in fuel consumption by improving road surfaces would mean potential savings of 5 billion gallons of fuel. "The Road Information Program calculates that rough roads cost the average American motorist $324 every year - a total of $67 billion, just for extra wear and tear on vehicles,” says National Asphalt Pavement Association president Mike Acott. “Adding this figure to the $12.5 billion in potential fuel savings, we can see that the U. S. could save nearly $80 billion a year by building and maintaining smoother pavements."
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Retaining Walls: Scanning Coupons
Roads & Bridges (06/11) Vol. 49, No. 6, Higgins, Catherine

Mechanically stabilized earth walls (MSE) are often used to stabilize backfill around bridges or retaining walls along freeways. Over the past 15 years, MSE walls have become common when retaining walls are needed. Utah's Department of Transportation (UDOT) has a database of over 700 MSE walls throughout the state's transportation system. UDOT chief geotechnical engineer Keith Brown says the MSE walls are a valuable asset. UDOT worked with Brigham Young University Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Assistant Professor Dr. Travis Gerber and his team of researchers to assess corrosion on steel reinforcement used in MSE walls in Salt Lake County. Using steel-wire coupons made from the same material as MSE walls, the researchers were able to conduct actual physical inspections. The study will help UDOT determine better designs and building techniques for MSE walls. Over the past decade, MSE walls have become better able to tolerate foundation settlement without adverse problems, and construction time has shortened due to precast MSE wall elements. The normal life of an MSE wall is projected to be at least 75 years. The most common causes of corrosion are low-quality backfill and inadequate drainage. Backfill that is too acidic or alkaline increases corrosion and can result in premature failure, so backfill should be tested for soil resistivity, pH, and salt content before construction. Adequate drainage is also a necessity, as poor draining can cause increase corrosion due to fluctuating water tables.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

A National Interstate Bike Highway? Is It Possible?
SustainableBusiness.com (07/18/11)

Despite ongoing budget cuts, the Association of American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has approved the first new routes for a national bicycle highway since 1982. The U.S. Bicycle Route System (USBRS) would be the largest national cycling network in the world. New routes would include USBR 1 in Maine and New Hampshire, USBR 20 in Michigan, and USBRs 8, 95, and 87 in Alaska. Maine's Department of Transportation (DOT) worked with local cyclists to develop the Route 1 path from Calais to Portsmouth, and conducted public meetings to obtain a consensus from local communities about establishing the new route. "We came up with what we thought would provide the best touring route while making important connections to Maine's coastal cities and scenic destinations," says Tony Barrett, a cyclists involved in the Bicycle Association of Maine. All three states could see communities benefit from tourism and economic development. Bicycle travel generates $89 billion a year, and is becoming an increasingly important part of the adventure travel market, according to a study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association. The U.S. Bicycle Route System is a proposed national network of bicycle routes that would connect city, regional, and statewide cycling routes, and provide transportation and tourism opportunities around the country. The effort is being lead by AASHTO's Task Force on U.S. Bicycle Routes, and involves participation from state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration, and nonprofit organizations.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

Other

Integrate Your Project Team
Constructech (07/19/2011)

Integrated project delivery (IPD) agreements bring project team members together in a collaborative process to maximize project efficiency. The IPD agreement brings together owners, architects, and construction professionals to establish project guidelines, goals, and targets; determine how decisions will be made; and how the team will operate, perform, and share project risks and benefits. IPDs are currently successfully implemented in several health care construction projects, and have great potential for use in other construction industry areas. The $230 million expansion of Children's Hospital Colorado will use a tri-party agreement to carefully coordinate the project in order to minimize disruptions to the existing facility’s operations. Weekly meetings, project walks, and detailed processes helps keep the team members aware of project progress on a daily basis. Mobile kiosks in the field will give all personnel in the construction team access to evolving project data. Innovative technology allowed the team to develop detailed processes insuring a high degree of collaboration. For example, to maximize efficiency, the team used Bluebeam for document control, collaborative document management, and to track and document design changes.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration

National Academies Call for Science Education Makeover
USA Today (07/19/11) Vergano, Dan

A new U.S. National Research Council report calls for reforming science teaching nationwide from kindergarten to high school. The report says that current high school graduates are often unable to think critically about science or pursue careers in science and engineering. Too few U.S. workers have strong backgrounds in science, technology, and engineering, and many people lack a fundamental understanding of these fields, the report says. The conventional science framework, which includes physical sciences, life sciences, earth sciences, and technology, should be introduced to school children and constantly reinforced throughout the education process, not taught only in a few grades, according to the report. "Currently, science education in the U.S. lacks a common vision of what students should know and be able to do by the end of high school, curricula too often emphasize breadth over depth, and students are rarely given the opportunity to experience how science is actually done," says the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory's Helen Quinn. The report calls for implementing its guidelines into reforms of science standards, which are already underway in many states.
Free Web Link, May Require Registration



© Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC.