Photo by Tudor Van Hampton for ENR
This year's ICUEE show drew 17,500 visitors, the second-highest-ever turnout for the biennial trade show.

Even though new construction starts for electric utilities have fallen sharply this year, contractors with heavy workloads in the transmission business are replacing worn-out machines.

"The industry is doing really well," said Scott Kidder, safety manager at Bison Electric, Tulsa, Okla., at the International Construction and Utility Equipment Exposition, held on Oct. 1-3 in Louisville, Ky. "The hard part is finding workers."

Transmission and substation projects are keeping linemen busy, said others at the biennial ICUEE, which covered 1.2 million sq ft. This year's show attracted 17,500 visitors, ICUEE's second-highest turnout.

"There is a tremendous amount of transmission construction activity right now," said Matt Trefz, market manager for Altec Industries Inc., which exhibited a new 45-ton boom truck at the expo. For example, linemen are busy erecting corridors to handle renewable-energy sources, such as wind power, he added.

One such project, the $6.82-billion Competitive Renewable Energy Zones in Texas, is winding down, with approximately 3,000 of the planned 3,600 miles built. Likewise, Wisconsin-based American Transmission Co. released on Oct. 3 a 10-year plan calling for $3 billion to $3.6 billion in Midwest grid improvements.

Even so, U.S. construction starts in the electric-utility sector fell 5% in August and are expected to fall an annual rate of 40% in 2013, according to Dodge, like ENR, a unit of McGraw Hill Construction. Meanwhile, total starts in all sectors rose 2% in August.

Attendees reported healthy underground work, as well. "The only sector that is having difficulty digging its feet in is the municipal water and wastewater sector," said Dave Wisniewski, vice president at Vermeer, adding that shale extraction has boosted sales of trenching and drilling equipment, helping to offset the lagging sewer work.