CT Construction Digest Tuesday July 14, 2020
After three years of work, a $56.7 million project that improved a 5-mile stretch of the Merritt Parkway is coming to an end.
The state Department of Transportation has announced that the project “will move to a full final alignment progressing east to west (Fairfield to Westport) as median reconstruction work is completed and temporary barriers are removed.”
With that phase complete, preparations now move for final paving for the parkway in the construction zone.
A milling project, which prepares the road for paving, will require the evening closure of the Exit 42 on and off ramps this week in Westport.
The work is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday, July 13 through Friday, June 17.
Message boards will be placed on the parkway and at ramps to inform motorists of the impending closure date and time.
During the ramp closure a signed detour will be in place for affected ramps. Motorist that normally use the on or off-ramps at Interchange 42 will be guided to use the following detours:
EXIT 42 southbound off-Ramp closure and access to Weston Road (Rte. 57): Detour will direct motorists to use EXIT 41 southbound off ramp to Wilton Road (Rte. 33) and return to EXIT 42 northbound off ramp via the Exit 41 northbound entrance ramp.
EXIT 42 northbound off-ramp closure and access to Weston Road (Rte. 57): Detour will direct motorists to use EXIT 44 northbound off ramp to Black Rock Turnpike (Rte. 58) and return to EXIT 42 southbound off ramp and Rte. 57 via the Exit 44 northbound entrance ramp.
EXIT 42 southbound on-ramp closure and access to Rte. 15 southbound: Detour will direct motorists to use EXIT 42 northbound on ramp to Rte. 15 north and use EXIT 44 to Black Rock Turnpike (Rte. 58) and return to Rte. 15 south via the Exit 44 southbound entrance ramp.
EXIT 42 northbound on-ramp closure and access to Rte. 15 northbound: Detour will direct motorists to use the EXIT 42 entrance ramp to Rte. 15 South via Weston Road (Rte. 57) and use EXIT 41 to Wilton Road (Rte. 33) and return to Rte. 15 North via Exit 41 northbound entrance ramp.
Already, most of the construction work from Congresss Street in Fairfeld to Westport has been completed. The project included work on 11 bridges uniquely designed for the Merritt in the 1930s by architect George L. Dunkelberger. While most of the bridges required minor cosmetic enhancements — such as parapet work, graffiti removal, surface and crack repairs, and fencing — others, like the Saugatuck River Bridge needed more work.
Setbacks hamper pipeline industry
Matthew Brown and Cathy Bussewitz Associated Press
After a U.S. energy boom and strong backing from President Donald Trump propelled a major expansion of the nation’s sprawling oil and gas pipeline network, mounting political pressures and legal setbacks have put its future growth in doubt even as the pandemic saps demand for fuel.
Two major oil pipeline projects suffered courtroom blows this week: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the cancellation of a key permit for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline from Canada, and a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline — which goes through Morgan County and other parts of west-central Illinois — shut down more than three years after it started moving oil across the U.S. Northern Plains.The rulings came a day after utilities cancelled an $8 billion natural gas pipeline through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina amid mounting delays and bitter opposition from environmentalists.
Industry representatives took consolation from the Supreme Court’s decision that the permit it denied for Keystone XL can once again be used for other projects. That would allow more than 70 pipeline projects that faced potentially billions of dollars of delays to proceed.
But that outcome may be “too little too late” for some companies already making changes to their plans, said Ben Cowan, who represents pipeline companies as an attorney with Locke Lord LLP.
The recent blows against the industry have emboldened environmentalists and Native American activists, who routinely oppose fossil fuel pipelines because of potential spills and their contribution to climate change.
Montana farmer Dena Hoff, a Keystone opponent, witnessed the environmental damage that pipelines can cause in 2015 when a pipeline broke beneath the Yellowstone river adjacent to her farm and spilled 31,000 gallons of crude that fouled downstream water supplies serving 6,000 people.
She said the years of protests against Keystone and other lines have made the public listen. “There’s more to this argument than jobs and tax dollars,” Hoff said. Industry executives acknowledged pipeline opponents have found some success in the courts, but insist that continued demand for oil and gas means new lines will be needed. “We will meet them at the courthouse and fight these battles out legally at every opportunity,” said American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers. “The activist community doesn’t want to build anything, anywhere.”
Construction crews installed almost 30,000 miles of new oil pipelines and nearly 10,000 miles of new interstate gas transmission lines over the past 10 years, according to government data and figures provided by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Most projects attracted far less attention than huge endeavors like the 600-mile Atlantic Coast line. That shows companies can successfully balance landowner concerns, environmental impacts and similar issues, said Joan Dreskin, vice president of the gas association.
The building spree came after breakthroughs in drilling techniques allowed fossil fuel companies to ramp up production and make the U.S. the world’s top oil and gas producer.
That steep rise toppled off a cliff earlier this year, when a price dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia combined with the onset of the pandemic caused oil prices to crater. Natural gas prices also have fallen in recent years, driven in part by oversupply. A loss by Trump in November could add to the industry’s troubles. Since his election, the Republican president has issued directives to speed up pipeline permitting and even interceded personally with Keystone XL, issuing a special presidential permit for the 1,200-mile pipeline that would stretch from Alberta to Nebraska after it was stalled by an earlier court ruling.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign has said he would rescind Keystone’s permit. His administration also could make it harder for Dakota Access to resume operations and prolong the court-ordered environmental review of the project, said Aaron Brady, vice president of energy at IHS Markit.
Dakota Access is by far the largest pipeline out of the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota and Montana. An extended shutdown could force oil companies to use more costly and risky transport methods, such as by rail.
Similar constraints loom over natural gas producers with the defeat of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and successful attempts to block pipelines in the Northeast. That could rein in future growth of the Marcellus gas fields, which boosted U.S. production to record highs last decade, said Rich Redash, head of global gas planning at S&P Global Platts.
Can clean energy power CT's economic recovery?
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT Mirror
n mid-April, as COVID-19 was paralyzing the northeast, Massachusetts made an eyebrow-raising announcement. The state’s Department of Energy Resources, in what it called an emergency order, doubled the capacity of its key solar program and declared its solar industry an essential service.
While states like Connecticut included the solar sector in their stay-at-home ranks – contributing to what would become a more than 620,500 loss of clean energy jobs nationally by the end of May – Massachusetts kept its solar people working.
“We need to give clarity long term for the solar industry,” said Patrick Woodcock, commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources. “We wanted to signal this was going to be a priority for Massachusetts.”
The paperwork to make that happen had to be filed physically. “I remember the drive into Boston. It was an absolute ghost town,” he said.
While Massachusetts has a head start in leveraging renewable and clean energy as economic engines, Connecticut’s approach during the height of the shutdown, and its vision of clean and renewable energy’s potential, has been more subdued. There have been no broad declarations about it as an economic driver from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes. She has focused instead on the state’s current commitments, such as its considerable entry into offshore wind, which includes plans to revitalize ports in New London and Bridgeport, and a final plan released in April on how to accelerate electric vehicle adoption – known as the EV Roadmap –as a way of reducing greenhouse gases.
“Even before this crisis we’ve been on a path of dramatic expansion of clean energy resources, of electric vehicles and other policies that can help us continue to meet the needs of the climate crisis,” she said. “A consistent commitment to our policies is one of the most important things we can do to ensure that utilities and also the private market continue to make investments in reducing carbon emissions and delivering a cleaner and more affordable grid.”
But there are many who see not only an economic potential, but an opportunity – even with its unfortunate origins in a pandemic – to go big. In the spirit of never letting a good crisis go to waste, these environmental experts want Connecticut to make faster, harder and more ambitious energy changes than the state has been pursuing.
“I do think this is a very useful pivot point,” said Ken Gillingham, an economics professor at Yale who specializes in energy and environmental economics as well as energy and climate policy modeling. He was also a senior economist for energy and the environment for the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration.
Karl Rabago, a senior advisor at the Pace Energy and Climate Center who has advised Connecticut on energy and climate policy for years, agreed.
“Should clean energy be the white steed that we use to ride out triumphantly from the COVID pandemic? And the answer is – among the many rides we could choose – this is a very good one,” Rabago said. “It’s a good one because it affects everyone. It’s a good one because it starts paying a serious down payment on the severe changes we need to address with climate change.”
When asked whether he believes Connecticut’s leaders understand the concept of spending money to make money, especially when money is tight like it is now, he said, “I think it’s pretty clear that they don’t.”
“When you’re in a downturn, government expenditures can have a disproportionately useful effect, bringing in jobs when they’re most sorely needed,” Gillingham said.
Adherence to a balanced budget requirement is often one excuse for not spending money, but it can cause even more problems, Gillingham said, because that means when tax revenues drop, government spending drops: “which is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing.”
It’s not just Connecticut
There is precedent in the U.S. for using renewable and clean energy projects as economic drivers to overcome a recession.
In 2009, more than $27 billion of the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act went towards renewable energy.
In the last few months a slew of reports – national and international – have made the case that the renewable energy sector and efforts to mitigate climate change have huge economic potential.
- A three-year Sustainable Recovery Plan for the post-COVID world developed by the International Energy Agency and the World Bank stated “governments have a unique opportunity today to boost economic growth, create millions of new jobs and put global greenhouse gas emissions into structural decline.”
- A report by the University of California at Berkeley offered a path to a 90% carbon-free grid by 2035, stating that doing so would provide “a huge opportunity for economic recovery — a fantastic way to invest in a healthier economy and support new jobs, without raising electricity bills.”
- The U.S. Green Building Council released its concept called Healthy People in Healthy Places showing how sustainable building could help mitigate climate change and contribute to the global economic recovery.
- Studies from England to New England’s Acadia Center have also touted the economic role of renewable energy.
So, as has been the case throughout the Trump administration, renewable energy efforts will largely have to come from the states.
Connecticut’s neighbors aren’t waiting.
In addition to Massachusetts keeping its solar industry going as COVID-19 peaked in the Northeast, New York repeatedly doubled down on its commitment to clean energy growth with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in one of his daily briefings, even saying renewable energy would “jumpstart the future.” Just last week, Cuomo announced the state would begin research and development to improve air quality in buildings as a way to mitigate COVID and improve efficiency, which would mean using less power. And last month before his state had even reopened, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled plans to build the first offshore wind-specific port in the U.S. that he said would make the state the “national capital of offshore wind” – a jobs generator and economic driver for sure.
Connecticut extended the deadline for some existing renewable energy programs, but a number of key issues that were to have been addressed during the legislative session, which was cancelled, will probably have to wait until next year. There are no plans to deal with any energy issues in the upcoming special session.
The regulatory process through the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) continued to work its way through a series of linked proposals that comprise a grid modernization effort – known by shorthand as the grid mod docket.
It’s a coordinated effort to update the more than century-old electric grid that relies on power distributed by long wires on poles. Depending on how ambitious PURA gets in reimagining how electricity is provided as a component of addressing climate change, providing resilience and offering electricity users all kinds of flexibility in the not-too-distant future, it could also generate tons of jobs, new businesses, income, tax revenue and all manner of economic goodies.
But, she said, it won’t work without a strategy that will link the utilities serving the state with the state’s environmental and energy policies – to bolster stability, predictability and business.
“The utilities and their investors need long-term signals that can be relied on and are stable, so that the utilities can get cash capital and other things at decreased rates which help our ratepayers,” Gillett said. “The really great thing about clean energy, to my mind, is a lot of it has to be localized – which means that clean and renewable energy is almost synonymous with an economic development opportunity because the jobs are going to be local and sustained.”
That notion of local jobs is a theme heard over and over by those advocating a harder push into renewable energy. But it still takes a Herculean effort to get everyone on board – lawmakers, regulators, the public, energy producers and the utilities.
The big ideas
When the coronavirus shutdown hit in Connecticut, Leticia Colon de Mejias’ company, Energy Efficiencies Solutions, basically ground to a halt. It was her second punch in the last few years.
She’d already been forced into a 30% cutback in 2017 when the legislature authorized a sweep of about half the utility ratepayer fees that should have gone toward energy efficiency, along with clean energy funds that would have gone to the Connecticut Green Bank.
This time was different.
“Get these folks who lost jobs in restaurants,” Colon said, adding that they can be trained in all manner of energy efficiency jobs and a lot of the remediation that goes with it, such as asbestos removal, fixing gas leaks and making general repairs that are often needed in lower income housing.
When re-imagining the big renewable energy ideas that could help Connecticut’s economic recovery from COVID-19, energy efficiency is inevitably the first stop.
“For a quick return to economic activity, job restoration and job creation, priming the economic pump – if you take any range of energy options side by side, you realize that something like weatherizing a house is top of the freakin’ list in terms of meeting those qualifications,” said Rabago, of the Pace Energy and Climate Center.
To that end, the Connecticut Green Bank has created Green Liberty Bonds – lower denomination bonds that investors can begin purchasing today and will be used to finance clean energy projects. And, of course, more projects means more jobs, more tax revenue and so on.
The initial offer will be $16 million and is modeled on the war bonds offered during WWII.
Among other suggestions offered that Connecticut could use to ramp up clean energy and spur economic growth: a larger capacity for and investments in solar power of all kinds – grid-scale, commercial, residential – but especially community solar, which has the potential to scoop up renters, multi-family units, low and moderate income households and all manner of people whose properties can’t accommodate solar panels.
Experts have also floated the idea of using heat pumps as efficient replacements for old heating systems – especially those that use oil. The Connecticut Energy Marketers Association – whose main function has been home heating oil and gas delivery — is already turning to that for many of its 600 members.
Other ideas include building out anaerobic digestion to deal with waste disposal by transforming food and farm waste into power, configuring the large grid changes that will be needed to accommodate the heavy loads of electric vehicle charging systems, and retrofitting homes and commercial structures for greater energy efficiency and to withstand climate change impacts.
“I think it’s inherently going to have to be a policy mix or a mix of technologies,” said Yale’s Gillingham. “These are technologies coming to play that are being implemented around the world. There’s no reason for Connecticut to be behind the curve.”
“We can’t go back to normal; we have to go back to better,” said Amy McLean Salls, Acadia Center’s Connecticut director. “The utility business model is in need of complete reform – that’s just got to happen.”
Utilities on notice
There are lots of ideas about how to reform the utilities. Broadly those ideas rely on shifting the paradigm of how utilities make their money and what they consider valuable. Changing how the system works now – utilities receive payment for transmission and delivery of power and system maintenance – could, for example, include non-wire alternatives to new substations or transmission lines.
Connecticut’s two utilities, Eversource and Avangrid, have been grudging participants in grid reform efforts in Connecticut. In Massachusetts, where Eversource also operates, it is participating in exactly those sorts of modernizations. It is building battery storage systems on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, for example, instead of a far more expensive and disruptive transmission lines.
“We absolutely support the development of a modern grid, and we are actively working to identify and to engineer our plans and operations,” she said.
Avangrid’s vice president for regulatory affairs for Connecticut, Pat McConnell, said as far as getting pushed by PURA, “I’d be disappointed if we had to be.”
He sees the electrification of transportation as having the greatest potential for changing the grid – with a need for additional power in different locations and times.
He sees the electrification of transportation as having the greatest potential for changing the grid – with a need for additional power in different locations and times.
All of it comes with jobs, but with initial costs that some wonder whether the state has the political will to embrace even if it saves money and addresses climate change in the long run.
“I would love the support of elected officials – but I don’t need it. I feel I have the jurisdiction,” said PURA Chair Gillett. “What we need to be looking at is how we’re going to use the regulatory hooks that PURA has to help us make the utilities a platform to move forward.
“I don’t think anything we were thinking pre-pandemic is suitable for post-pandemic. I think it all deserves re-thinking.”
“There’s an opportunity for the utilities to be the heroes in this,” said Brenda Watson, executive director of Operation Fuel. “Instead of being mandated to change, come to the table and make these changes voluntarily. It’s 2020. We shouldn’t be planning it – we should be implementing it.”
Watson believes one of the biggest impediments to reforming the energy system is the state’s siloed approach to how it runs – especially when it comes to low and moderate income customers. Overlapping departments often don’t talk with each other – a reality she said COVID-19 has illuminated.
“If we don’t learn that in our lessons from COVID,” she said, “that would be the biggest loss.”