Labor Construction Unemployment Stuck at 17.7%, Despite Gains

The construction industry's unemployment rate increased in January to 17.7% from December's 16%, but it was much lower than the 22.5% rate a year earlier, says the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency's Feb. 3 monthly employment update showed construction gaining a further 21,000 jobs in January, after adding 31,000 in December 2011. That brings the industry's total employment to its highest level in two years.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America chief economist, notes that the increases over the past two months came during unusually mild winter weather.


Albuquerque Loses Lawsuit Over Energy Conservation Code

A federal judge in New Mexico ruled in favor of plaintiffs who contended portions of the 2007 Albuquerque Energy Conservation Code are preempted by federal law. The Jan. 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez essentially rejected the city's attempt, through its building code, to impose heating, ventilating and air-conditioning equipment-efficiency standards for commercial and residential buildings that are more stringent than federal standards. The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 30, 2010, by a group led by the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. In another move late last year, the Albuquerque City Council voted 5-4 to abandon the city's energy conservation code in favor of the less strict New Mexico energy code. The state code is based on the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code.

Southwest Utilities Plan Major $1.5-Billion Expansion

The Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission organization, on Feb. 3 approved a multiyear, multistate transmission expansion expected to cost $1.5 billion in engineering and construction. The plan calls for 786 miles of 345-kv lines, 124 miles of 230-kv lines and 15 transformers to be built over 10 years. The projects are designed to resolve reliability issues and allow states to meet renewable-energy targets. The approval also includes $251 million in near-term transmission projects across the pool's nine-state region.

Fossil Fuel

Akron, Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy is retiring by Sept. 1 six coal-fired plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland and possibly three others in West Virginia. A company spokesman says the six plants, totaling 2,689 MW, will close because it would be too costly to modify them to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mercury-control requirements and other regulations. All nine plants are smaller and older units that do not often run, he says, adding that First Energy plans to make investments in its 10 remaining large-scale, supercritical coal-fired units to meet the EPA rules. The utility expects to complete a review of the units in the next several months to determine compliance costs.


Israel OKs $2-Billion Proposal As Alternate to the Suez Canal

The Israeli government has approved a planned $2-billion, 350-kilometer rail network from the Mediterranean coast to the Red Sea port of Eilat. The route would provide an alternative to the Suez Canal for Europe-Asia trade. The project is set to take five years to complete once financing is arranged. It would involve upgrading existing track, laying new rail in southern Israel and building 63 bridges and five tunnels. After a meeting in Beijing last fall, Israeli and Chinese officials signed a memo of understanding for China to build the route's main 180-km segment from a major phosphate mine to the port.