Employment Picture Improves

The construction industry posted strong employment figures for February, adding 48,000 jobs, the largest monthly gain in several years. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly employment report shows construction's unemployment rate fell to 15.7% from 16.1% in January. Last month's rate also was better than the year-earlier level of 17.1%.

DOE Will Boost Scrutiny Of New Energy Project Funding

Energy companies and researchers looking for help from the U.S. Energy Dept. in commercializing renewable-energy and energy-efficiency technologies will face increased scrutiny in the coming years as the agency abandons grants in favor of cost-sharing agreements, a senior official told Congress on March 14. "Every single competitive project we award going forward will be a cooperative agreement, not a grant," David Danielson, DOE assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, told a House subcommittee, according to Platts, a unit of The McGraw-Hill Cos. "It will be subject to aggressive annual milestones, rigorous quarterly reviews and early termination in the event of insufficient technical performance."

President Barack Obama requested $1.9 billion for such projects in his fiscal 2013 budget. The project management changes will take effect on Oct. 1.

Maryland Advances Wind Bill

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is set to enact a long-advocated plan to develop a 40-turbine wind-energy farm off the state's Atlantic coast that could generate up to 200 MW of energy. After killing the bill in two previous sessions, the Maryland General Assembly finally passed it on March 18. The measure requires state power suppliers to receive up to 2.5% of power from offshore wind as early as 2017.

Ratepayers will help fund the state's 20-year, $1.7-billion subsidy to successful developers via surcharges on electric bills. The measure now limits residential increases to $1.50 per month, while commercial customers may pay up to 1.5% more for power. No specific projects have been announced, but eight developers may bid for leases, which will be finalized this year. A House of Delegates committee also approved a bill to shore up Maryland transportation funding. It would implement a 3% sales tax on wholesale gas over three years and preserve the existing 23.5¢-per-gallon gas tax.

Voters Want More STEM Study

More than 90% of Washington state voters believe strong science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills will boost job opportunities there, while nearly 70% think schools expect too little of students in these areas, says a new poll of 600 voters by advocacy group WashingtonSTEM. The group says the survey is the first of its kind in the U.S.