Dodge Construction Starts End 2014 With a 7% Annual Increase

Construction starts totaled $575.3 billion in 2014, a 7% increase over the previous year, says Dodge Data & Analytics. Most of the growth came in non-residential building, which rose 17% from the 2013 total. The housing market was up 8%, while non-building construction struggled with a 6% dip.

"Continued expansion of construction starts in 2014 included more growth for commercial buildings, the first increase for institutional building after five years of decline and a surge of manufacturing-plant projects," says Robert Murray, DD&A chief economist. Manufacturing surged 74%, lifted by large energy-related projects, including a $3-billion ethylene plant. Excluding that sector, non-residential building rose 11%.

Critics Blast Obama Plan To Cut Energy Drilling in Arctic Refuge

Alaska lawmakers and state officials are vowing to fight President Obama's Jan. 25 announcement that he will ask Congress to designate 12.3 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and four Alaskan rivers as wilderness areas, the highest level of public land protection in the U.S. and, therefore, off-limits to oil and gas development. Of the refuge's 19.8 million acres, less than 40% are now designated as wilderness.

The Interior Dept. is set to release a new five-year plan that will indefinitely withdraw from oil and gas leasing offshore Arctic waters, including large areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) said he plans to encourage more exploration and production on state-owned lands. White House officials on Jan. 26 told reporters the GOP reaction was unwarranted. "We will continue to work to try to find balance," said Obama aide John Podesta.

State OKs New $64-Million Line Through Central New Jersey

New Jersey regulators on Jan. 21 approved utility Jersey Central Power & Light's plan to build a 16-mile transmission line in Monmouth County to avoid substantial outages in the growing region. The state Board of Utilities unanimously endorsed the $64-million project, to be built along an existing route by mid-2017. The utility also will upgrade two substations. The board also allowed utility PSE&G to build a $138-million switching station in Newark.

Vermont Bill Sets Higher Renewable Energy Goals

Vermont is considering a bill that would require 55% of state energy to come from renewable sources by 2017, rising to 75% by 2032. The bill would replace an existing law that sets a 45% renewables goal but also allows utilities to meet that objective by selling credits out of state. The legislation would no longer allow those sales but would let utilities gain credits by obtaining 1% of their power by 2017 from distributed generation projects to homeowners and by cutting fossil-fuel consumption equal to 2% of sales by that year, rising to 12% in 2032, says the state Public Service Dept.