ACEC Weekly NewsLine
October 05, 2011

Energy

U.S. Energy Department Closes $4.75 Billion in Solar Loans

Land/Buildings

Coalition Looks to Stimulate Livable Communities Solutions

Other

Report Questions EPA's Greenhouse Gas Ruling




Energy

U.S. Energy Department Closes $4.75 Billion in Solar Loans
Bloomberg (10/01/11) Martin, Christopher

The U.S. Energy Department completed $4.75 billion in loan guarantees for four solar projects before the Sept. 30 for a 2005 program funded by the stimulus act. Projects being developed by ProLogis Inc., SunPower Corp., and First Solar Inc. won U.S. backing, and First Solar and SunPower immediately sold theirs. Brett Prior, an analyst at GTM Research in Boston, notes the funding comes after Solyndra LLC, a solar company that received $527 million in backing through the same program, closed its doors Aug. 31. "It's been very successful, and in fact the only rap against the program until recently was that it was moving too slowly," says Prior. "Lenders always assume some risk and Solyndra was a tiny portion of the overall program." Solyndra's failure prompted congressional scrutiny of the program, and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have used its failure to tar both the loan guarantee program and Obama's efforts to promote the renewable energy industry as an economic driver. The four projects approved join 25 solar, wind and geothermal companies that have won more than $11.4 billion in loan backing for projects from Maine to Hawaii, including Solyndra, which borrowed $527 million against its $535 million guarantee. "The loan guarantees have scored a lot more positives than negatives and will create a lot of jobs as the projects start moving," says Sanjay Shrestha, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets in New York. "We need a much bigger program to really expand domestic manufacturing and compete with Asia."
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A U.S.-Backed Geothermal Plant in Nevada Struggles
New York Times (10/03/11) Lipton, Eric; Krauss, Clifford

The clean energy start-up firm Nevada Geothermal Power is struggling with debt after encountering problems at its only operating plant, a geothermal plant in northern Nevada. Nevada Geothermal's own auditor concluded in a filing released last week that there was "significant doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern." The parallels between Nevada Geothermal and the recently bankrupted Solyndra illustrate the risk inherent in building the clean energy marketplace in the United States, government officials and industry experts say. They note the loan guarantee program exists precisely because none of these ventures are a sure bet. The amount of money the federal government has at stake with Nevada Geothermal — a loan guarantee of $79 million plus at least $66 million in grants — is much smaller than the $528 million investment in Solyndra, and there have been no allegations of wrongdoing by Nevada Geothermal. Executives of the company express confidence that they can recover. Energy Department spokesman Dan Leistikow says he considers the Nevada Geothermal project a success, noting that the company has a long-term contract to sell its power. "The Blue Mountain power plant is up and running, generating clean, renewable power and has been consistently making its loan payments on time and in full," says Leistikow. Nationally, geothermal energy produces only about 3,000 megawatts of power, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has taken the nascent geothermal industry under his wing, pressuring the Department of Interior to move more quickly on applications to build clean energy projects on federally owned land and urging other member of Congress to expand federal tax incentives to help build geothermal plants, benefits that Nevada Geothermal has taken advantage of.
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Pipeline Supporters, Critics Face Off in the Heartland
Wall Street Journal (09/28/11) Welsch, Edward

The State Department has started a series of public hearings on a proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline aimed at boosting Canadian crude-oil imports by the United States. The debate is taking place along the line's proposed route. On Sept. 27, proponents and critics squared off in Lincoln, Neb., which has emerged as a particularly heated battleground for the project. The public hearings include stops in Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, and South Dakota, before culminating in Washington in October. While many prominent Republicans in Washington support the line, many Nebraska Republicans are against it because it will travel over a critical water source. The state's Republican governor, Dave Heineman, sent a letter to President Barack Obama last month asking that the pipeline be rerouted. Earlier this week, Canada dispatched its ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, to the state to meet with Heineman. Canada's TransCanada Corp. is proposing to build the line, called Keystone XL, an expansion of its existing Keystone line, which carries crude from Alberta's oil-sands region to the United States. The State Department said in August that it did not have environmental objections to the line—a regulatory step widely interpreted as making approval more likely. Keystone supporters say the line is an environmentally responsible way to bolster U.S. energy security and create jobs in both the U.S. and Canada, but opponents note that oil-sands development requires more energy and water than conventional production, and environmentalists have charged the line increases the risk of oil spills.

Group Backs New Standard Following Conn. Blast
Associated Press (09/27/11) Reitz, Stephanie

The National Fire Protection Association is supporting a new standard that it says states and regulators should adopt to prevent explosions such as a fatal Connecticut power plant blast in 2010. The standard bars the use of natural gas to clean pipes at industrial plants, commercial developments, and other projects. It could be employed by state legislatures and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to author rules prohibiting the "gas blow" practice and encouraging companies to use nitrogen or other nonvolatile materials for pipe cleaning. This year Connecticut became the first and thus far only state to ban the practice. OSHA also has been asked to ban the procedure by the Chemical Safety Board. "We all feel very, very deeply that we owe it to the men who perished and their families and their colleagues ... to put such a standard in place," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). The standard outlaws the use of flammable gas for pipe cleaning, requires crews to ensure that the substance released goes into a safe outdoor area where it will not accumulate, sets rules for notifying other workers, and triggers crews to halt pipe cleaning procedures under certain circumstances. Companies that comply with the rules would utilize them not only at power plant construction sites, but all major projects.
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Land/Buildings

Coalition Looks to Stimulate Livable Communities Solutions
HUD Newsroom (09/26/11)

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in collaboration with others, will initiate competitions and networks designed to stimulate imaginative ideas for creating sustainable and livable communities. The program, Innovation 10 Thousand or “I-10-K," was announced at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and is a unique collaboration between HUD, the U.S. Department of State, American Planning Association, Context Partners, X PRIZE Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Un Techo Para Mi País, and Ashoka’s Changemakers. President Clinton’s goal for CGI is to promote and standardize creative models that would provide solutions for social and economic mega-challenges. “This partnership reflects an ongoing desire to engage sustainable development innovators from throughout the world, with the goal of creating new, cutting edge, high quality urban housing and employment opportunities,” says HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Raphael Bostic. Currently, half of the world’s population live in cities, and three out of four people are projected to reside in cities by 2050, underlining the urgent need to create livable, inclusive, and sustainable communities throughout the world. The I-10-K competition seeks to create innovative solutions for large-scale, multi-location sustainable housing; in-country training and technical assistance program for innovators and their partners; and an online community to further deepen collaboration and to continually engage new partners. The innovations surfaced by the competition will help guide domestic housing and urban development policies.
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Healthcare REIT Earns LEED Platinum Status, Launches New 'Green' Initiative
Senior Housing News (10/02/11) Yedinak, John

Health Care REIT Inc.'s corporate campus in Ohio has been awarded LEED Platinum status just as the company launches its Green Arrow Energy Management Program. Chairman and CEO George L. Chapman states, "We are honored to be recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council for our commitment to identifying and implementing the most effective energy management and sustainable business strategies for our Toledo corporate campus." The headquarters' design features include a green roof system, use of natural lighting, retention pond, automated building controls, real time energy metering, and a comprehensive recycling program. According to Health Care REIT officials, the fundamental elements of Green Arrow are the incorporation of sustainable business practices, renewable energy usage, and sustainable development and construction initiatives among the company's tenants and clientele. John T. Thomas, Executive Vice President – Medical Facilities, concludes, "The Green Arrow program demonstrates Health Care REIT's unwavering commitment to deliver innovation to our clients by providing them with the knowledge and capabilities to achieve lower energy cost and sustainable facility operations. We believe that these efforts will result in lower occupancy costs."
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Forest Service Report Documents Environmental Benefits of Wood as a Green Building Material
U.S. Department of Agriculture (09/29/11)

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that wood should factor as a primary building material in green construction, according to the conclusions of a new U.S. Forest Service study. The study authors determined that using wood in building products releases fewer greenhouse gases than using other common materials. "The argument that somehow non-wood construction materials are ultimately better for carbon emissions than wood products is not supported by our research," reported David Cleaves, the U.S. Forest Service Climate Change adviser. "Trees removed in an environmentally responsible way allow forests to continue to sequester carbon through new forest growth. Wood products continue to benefit the environment by storing carbon long after the building has been constructed." The study authors also noted that more use of life cycle analysis in building codes and standards would enhance the scientific underpinning of building codes and standards and yield benefits for the environment. "The use of wood provides substantial environmental benefits, provides incentives for private landowners to maintain forest land, and provides a critical source of jobs in rural America," Vilsack said. U.S. forest product utilization currently supports over 1 million direct jobs, especially in rural areas, and contributes more than $100 billion to U.S. gross domestic product. "Taking a harder look at wood as a green building source could reduce the damages posed by future fires, maintain overall forest health and provide much-needed jobs in local communities," said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. Recommendations by the U.S. Forest Service study regarding the use of wood as a green building material include updating and revising information on environmental impacts across the lifecycle of wood and alternative construction materials; including within green buildings codes and standards sufficient provisions to recognize the advantage of a lifecycle environmental analysis to guide selection of building materials; and remedying a dearth of educational, technology transfer, and demonstration projects that is impeding acceptance of wood as a green construction material.
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Water

EPA Launching Drinking Water Permitting Program for Carbon Capture
Water Policy Report (09/26/11)

EPA is rolling out its new Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) permitting program for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) wells, placing it in direct control of groundwater protection rules for the process because states have yet to apply for permitting primacy. EPA released a Sept. 15 Federal Register notice launching the new program, which sets up a new "Class VI" SDWA underground injection control (UIC) class under which most CCS activities will be allowed. Companies can now start submitting permit applications to EPA for all CCS activities, except those used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), which will stay within the Class II category. The agency says in the register notice that it started overseeing the Class VI program in all states and tribal lands as of Sept. 7, because states have not yet applied for the delegated authority they would require to implement the permits. This means EPA is closing a "transitional period" during which states could use existing UIC authority to allow CCS initiatives under Class I or Class V regulations. According to EPA, its regional offices must now begin assessing all current and future CCS projects unless they are strictly EOR. EPA will no longer permit CCS projects to be sanctioned under Class I non-hazardous waste rules, and will evaluate those currently permitted under Class V rules for experimental purposes on a case-by-case basis. "The Agency anticipates that few, if any, Class V experimental technology well permits will be issued under SDWA for future [geologic sequestration] GS projects," EPA states in the notice. EPA established the Class VI rules to impose stricter monitoring and construction mandates than other UIC categories, saying the new rules were required to guarantee that groundwater is protected given the "unique characteristics" of CO2 streams. But though some states are keen to have oversight of CCS projects rather than EPA, they have had difficulties completing the primacy application on account of limited resources, uncertainty about demand for CCS, and revisions EPA made to the final rule.

Lessons Learned from the Earthquake Performance of Concrete Dams
International Water Power and Dam Construction (09/11) Hansen, Kenneth D.; Nuss, Larry K.

In the April 1979 issue of International Water Power and Dam Construction a paper entitled "Response of Concrete Dams to Earthquakes" was published, reporting the performance of 17 concrete dams in nine countries that had been subjected to ground shaking over 0.10 g due to earthquakes. Based on the recorded performance of these dames, it was concluded that concrete dams generally performed extremely well when subjected to earthquakes, even when the movement significantly exceeds their designed loading. Thirty-two years later, numerous additionally earthquakes have shaken concrete dams of all types with greater severity, and a new list of 19 dams has been composed, which includes five dams from the original table. A greater number of quality motion instruments located at or near damns has resulted in an expansion of the base knowledge of the magnitude of shaking that dams have undergone. Consequently, our knowledge of the performance of severely shaken concrete dams has increased, and can be applied to the design of future dams. Many previous reports have focused on the magnitude of the earthquake and a general distance to the dam, but it has become apparent that the most significant factor in determining the performance of concrete dams is the peak horizontal ground accelerations, and probably the spectral acceleration at the natural frequency of the dam.
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Infrastructure—Importance of That Which Is Not Visible
Pollution Engineering (09/11) Vol. 43, No. 9, P. 20; Lewis, Charles J.; Noerenberg, Thomas L.

The 2010 opening of the Minnesota Twins' Target Field ballpark would not have been possible without the collective effort of a consortium of designers, constructors, and manufacturers who worked on the field's subterranean repairs, as one of the city's oldest sewer lines needed rehabilitation. The Brown and Caldwell (BC) engineering and consulting firm was hired in January 2007 to perform an internal inspection, assess alternatives, recommend a solution, and prepare bid documents, all within a highly expedited time schedule to allow for the completion of rehabilitation before year's end. Deformities uncovered by inspection included crown cracks and mineral deposits, two sagging areas bulging inward near the pilings supporting a bridge, groundwater within masonry joints, sediment in the east and west reaches, and bricks and stonework dislodged from the tunnel's invert and walls. The most effective repair technique would have to be implemented with wastewater flowing in the pipe, and the method eventually chosen was to slipline the pipe within the interceptor sewer. This would require reopening sections of the existing brick arch so that the slipline pipe could be installed in segments, and Hobas Pipe USA was contracted to provide centrifugally cast, fiberglass reinforced, polymer-mortar pipe to slipline 1,300 lineal feet of the existing 84-inch pipe. BC collaborated with the pipe manufacturer to design the segments for the short radius curve east of Bassett Creek, and the challenge was fabricating sections that could be built and grouted into a pipe which would not be precisely surveyed. At the center of the curve, the manufacturer built an access structure, which included two outside drops for sanitary sewage from the new ballpark, the Minikahda Storage building, and future development to the north. Moderate cleaning was carried out by Lametti and Sons under the water surface for the lining operation prior to the removal of mineral deposits from the walls, and several service connections protruding into the interceptor line were trimmed and reconnected. Each pipe was placed individually by the engineers to maintain the grade while also operating within a close tolerance between the inside diameter of the interceptor and the outside diameter of the new pipe. The pipe was blocked into place and grouted in two lifts with cellular concrete. The rehabilitation was completed within the timeline for slightly less than $4 million.
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Transportation

Calif., Northeast Get Top Billing In Study On High-Speed Rail Lines
Boston Globe (09/27/11) Moskowitz, Eric

A study by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy think tank argues that with the federal high-speed rail program currently stalled efforts should be focused on long-term investment in bullet trains, specifically in the Northeast and California. The "megaregions" between Boston and Washington, D.C., and between San Francisco and Los Angeles closely resemble, in both population and distance, the global corridors where trains are already used to transport millions of riders daily at speeds approaching or exceeding 200 miles an hour. These areas include Paris-Lyon in France, Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka in Japan, and Barcelona-Madrid in Spain. The closest thing to such high-speed lines in the United States is the Acela trains, which are capable of traveling at 150 miles per hour, but average less than half that speed due to congestion and frequent curves. The Acela also runs late nearly 20 percent of the time. The White House wants to spend $8 billion on high-speed rail next year, but the House budget does not include that spending, and since the 2009 expiration of the last surface transportation bill Congress has failed to agree on a new bill. The Lincoln report acknowledges these significant political and budgetary problems, and offers strategies used in successful European and Asian projects for the financing, construction, and operation of high-speed rail lines. "We see this as a generational investment, and minor setbacks from year to year are completely to be expected," says Petra Todorovich, lead author and director of America 2050, a collaboration between the Lincoln Institute and New York’s Regional Plan Association. "The interstate highway system did not get started until a dozen years after it was proposed."
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Roundabouts as Context Sensitive Solutions
ITE Journal (09/11) Vol. 81, No. 9, P. 38; Sides, Ken

There is much that contemporary roundabouts can offer to context sensitive solutions designers. They can function as a gateway to any type of neighborhood or bookend the two ends of a corridor. Transportation engineering practitioners are starting to realize that roundabouts can significantly heighten capacity and safety. They enhance roadway network capacity because they usually operate with greater efficiency than conventional signalized intersections, both at peak hours and especially at non-peak hours. Roundabouts typically boast substantially shorter queues than signals, and the queues are more or less moving continuously. Building a roundabout could potentially revitalize intersection corner properties because the lack of queued, idling vehicles opens up easy driveway access and removes noise and noxious fumes from the air. They also are usually much safer for drivers than signalized intersections thanks to the reduction of conflict points and complexity, removal of T-bone and head-on collisions, and very low speeds. Injuries can be reduced by 76 percent and deaths by more than 90 percent with modern roundabouts. Roundabouts also do not need turn lanes, which translates to less asphalt use and a reduction of stormwater runoff. With both red and green lights unnecessary for roundabouts, there is less fuel consumption and less pollution and greenhouse gas emissions than signalized intersections.

Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: From Concept to Recommended Practice
ITE Journal (09/11) Vol. 81, No. 9, P. 18; Bochner, Brian; Daisa, James M.; Storey, Beverly

The goal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers' recommended practice (RP) "Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach" is to span the chasm between conventional geometric street/highway design and design that supports the multiple functions of traditional urban streets. The challenge was devising a design strategy that combined multimodal transportation function with facilities supporting human and economic activities connected with adjacent and surrounding land uses. The advantages of the RP's use include having a primary resource for designing complete streets, as well as a design approach with recommended success. The RP's design scheme incorporates the precepts of context sensitive solutions (CSS) and promotes a collaborative, interdisciplinary solution development strategy. CSS employs design flexibility extensively, and the management of speed and conflicts are essential to urban thoroughfare safety. Urban traffic safety can be improved through the application of walkable urban thoroughfare principles and a strong focus on multimodal accommodations. Some agencies have embraced complete streets laws and policies to guarantee that their roads and streets and routinely designed and run to supply safe access for all users, as set forth in the RP. The goal in communities with complete street policies is for these users to be able to safely move across and along an urban street.

Other

Report Questions EPA's Greenhouse Gas Ruling
Washington Post (09/29/11) P. A2; Eilperin, Juliet

According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Inspector General, the agency should have conducted a more detailed scientific review before concluding two years ago that greenhouse-gas emissions pose a threat to public health and welfare. The study said the review did not meet all necessary requirements for peer review of scientific assessment because the review results and EPA's responses were not made public. Additionally, the study found that one of the 12 reviewers was an EPA employee. While the probe is unlikely to affect federal climate regulate, it raises questions on whether the government should play a role in addressing global warming. Additionally, the report raised concerns over whether the administration should have determined that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases qualify as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. But EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara defended the agency's approach, saying the EPA followed all appropriate guidance in preparing its findings. It is currently unclear whether the report will affect a legal challenge to the endangerment finding that several affected industries have mounted in federal court.
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Construction Employment Increased in 146 out of 337 Metro Areas Between August 2010 & 2011 as Private Sector Demand Improves
Associated General Contractors of America (09/26/11)

Since August 2010, 146 metropolitan areas added construction jobs, 145 had fewer construction jobs, and 46 had no change, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area of Texas added more jobs than any other metro area with a six percent increase adding 10,400 jobs. The Lake County-Kenosha County area of Illinois and Wisconsin increased construction employment by 22 percent with 2,900 additional jobs. Jobs were also added in some metropolitan areas of Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio. Less construction work was available in and around Los Angeles and Redding, CA; Atlanta, GA; Las Vegas, NV; Philadelphia, PA; New York City, NY; Wilmington, NC; Montgomery, AL; and Panama City, FL. “The construction market is caught between increases in private sector demand and even larger decreases in public sector construction investments,” says AGC’s chief economist Ken Simonson. “Construction employment continues to be stuck in a pattern where there are just as many hot spots as there are slow spots.” While the private sector investment in construction has grown by 5.5 percent this year, public sector demand has declined by 8.8 percent. Industry experts believe the government needs to invest in long-term infrastructure funding and cut costly regulatory obstacles. For example, state and local officials are having to spend billions of limited transportation funds on butterfly bridges and bat-safe highway lighting. "It’s like we are trying to rebuild our economy with two hands tied behind our back,” says AGC’s chief executive officer Stephen E. Sandherr. “We’re penny pinching on infrastructure even as we allow entitlement spending to spiral out of control, while we are doing a lot of things to inflate the cost and delay the completion of infrastructure projects.”
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