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CT Construction Digest Wednesday March 31, 2021

Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy

The president will begin selling his proposal on Wednesday, saying it would fix 20,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges, while also addressing climate change and racial inequities and raising corporate taxes.

Jim Tankersley

WASHINGTON — President Biden will unveil an infrastructure plan on Wednesday whose $2 trillion price tag would translate into 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, the elimination of lead pipes and service lines from the nation’s water supplies and a long list of other projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen American competitiveness in the long run.

Biden administration officials said the proposal, which they detailed in a 25-page briefing paper and which Mr. Biden will discuss in an afternoon speech in Pittsburgh, would also accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equity in the economy.

The spending in the plan would take place over eight years, officials said. Unlike the economic stimulus passed under President Barack Obama in 2009, when Mr. Biden was vice president, officials will not in every case prioritize so-called shovel ready projects that could quickly bolster growth.

But even spread over years, the scale of the proposal underscores how fully Mr. Biden has embraced the opportunity to use federal spending to address longstanding social and economic challenges in a way not seen in half a century. Officials said that, if approved, the spending in the plan would end decades of stagnation in federal investment in research and infrastructure — and would return government investment in those areas, as a share of the economy, to its highest levels since the 1960s.

The proposal is the first half of what will be a two-step release of the president’s ambitious agenda to overhaul the economy and remake American capitalism, which could carry a total cost of as much as $4 trillion over the course of a decade. Mr. Biden’s administration has named it the “American Jobs Plan,” echoing the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that Mr. Biden signed into law this month, the “American Rescue Plan.”

“The American Jobs Plan,” White House officials wrote in the document detailing it, “will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.”

While spending on roads, bridges and other physical improvements to the nation’s economic foundations has always had bipartisan appeal, Mr. Biden’s plan is sure to draw intense Republican opposition, both for its sheer size and for its reliance on corporate tax increases to pay for it.

Administration officials said the tax increases in the plan — including an increase in the corporate tax rate and a variety of measures to tax multinationals on money they earn and book overseas — would take 15 years to fully offset the cost of the spending programs.

The spending in the plan covers a wide range of physical infrastructure projects, including transportation, broadband, the electric grid and housing; efforts to jump-start advanced manufacturing; and other industries officials see as key to the United States’ growing economic competition with China. It also includes money to train millions of workers, as well as money for initiatives to support labor unions and providers of in-home care for older and disabled Americans, while also increasing the pay of the workers who provide that care.

Many of the items in the plan carry price tags that would have filled entire, ambitious bills in past administrations.

Among them: a total of $180 billion for research and development, $115 billion for roads and bridges, $85 billion for public transit, and $80 billion for Amtrak and freight rail. There is $42 billion for ports and airports, $100 billion for broadband and $111 billion for water infrastructure — including $45 billion to ensure no child ever is forced to drink water from a lead pipe, which can slow children’s development and lead to behavioral and other problems.

The plan seeks to repair 10,000 smaller bridges across the country, along with the 10 most economically significant ones in need of a fix. It would electrify 20 percent of the nation’s fleet of yellow school buses. It would spend $300 billion to promote advanced manufacturing, including a four-year plan to restock the country’s Strategic National Stockpile of pharmaceuticals, including vaccines, in preparation for future pandemics.

In many cases, officials cast those goals in the language of closing racial gaps in the economy, sometimes the result of previous federal spending efforts, like interstate highway developments that split communities of color or air pollution that affects Black and Hispanic communities near ports or power plants.

Officials cast the $400 billion spending on in-home care in part as a salve to “underpaid and undervalued” workers in that industry, who are disproportionately women of color.

Mr. Biden’s pledge to tackle climate change is embedded throughout the plan. Roads, bridges and airports would be made more resilient to the effects of more extreme storms, floods and fires wrought by a warming planet. Spending on research and development could help spur breakthroughs in cutting-edge clean technology, while plans to retrofit and weatherize millions of buildings would make them more energy efficient.

The president’s focus on climate change is centered, however, on modernizing and transforming the United States’ two largest sources of planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution: cars and electric power plants.

A decade ago, Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus plan spent about $90 billion on clean energy programs intended to jump-start the nation’s nascent renewable power and electric vehicle industries. Mr. Biden’s plan now proposes spending magnitudes more on similar programs that he hopes will take those technologies fully into the mainstream.

It bets heavily on spending meant to increase the use of electric cars, which today make up just 2 percent of the vehicles on America’s highways.

The plan proposes spending $174 billion to encourage the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles by granting tax credits and other incentives to companies that make electric vehicle batteries in the United States instead of China. The goal is to reduce vehicle price tags.

The money would also fund the construction of about a half-million electric vehicle charging stations — although experts say that number is but a tiny fraction of what is needed to make electric vehicles a mainstream option.

Mr. Biden’s plan proposes $100 billion in programs to update and modernize the electric grid to make it more reliable and less susceptible to blackouts, like those that recently devastated Texas, while also building more transmission lines from wind and solar plants to large cities.

It proposes the creation of a “Clean Electricity Standard” — essentially, a federal mandate requiring that a certain percentage of electricity in the United States be generated by zero-carbon energy sources like wind, solar and possibly nuclear power. But that mandate would have to be enacted by Congress, where prospects for its success remain murky. Similar efforts to pass such a mandate have failed multiple times over the past 20 years.

The plan proposes an additional $46 billion in federal procurement programs for government agencies to buy fleets of electric vehicles, and $35 billion in research and development programs for cutting-edge, new technologies.

It also calls for making infrastructure and communities more prepared for the worsening effects of climate change, though the administration has so far provided few details on how it would accomplish that goal.

But according to the document released by the White House, the plan includes $50 billion “in dedicated investments to improve infrastructure resilience.” The efforts would defend against wildfires, rising seas and hurricanes, and there would be a focus on investments that protect low-income residents and people of color.

The plan also includes a $16 billion program intended to help fossil fuel workers transition to new work — like capping leaks on defunct oil wells and shutting down retired coal mines — and $10 billion for a new “Civilian Climate Corps.”

Mr. Biden would fund his spending in part by eliminating tax preferences for fossil fuel producers. But the bulk of his tax increases would come from corporations generally.

He would raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, partly reversing a cut signed into law by President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Biden would also take a variety of steps to raise taxes on multinational corporations, many of them working within an overhaul of the taxation of profits earned overseas that was included in Mr. Trump’s tax law in 2017.

Those measures would include raising the rate of a minimum tax on global profits and eliminating several provisions that allow companies to reduce their American tax liability on profits they earn and book abroad.

Mr. Biden would also add a new minimum tax on the global income of the largest multinationals, and he would ramp up enforcement efforts by the Internal Revenue Service against large companies that evade taxes.

Administration officials expressed hope this week that the plan could attract bipartisan support in Congress. But Republicans and business groups have already attacked Mr. Biden’s plans to fund the spending with corporate tax increases, which they say will hurt the competitiveness of American companies. Administration officials say the moves will push companies to keep profits and jobs in the United States.

Joshua Bolten, the president and chief executive of the Business Roundtable, a powerful group representing top business executives in Washington, said on Tuesday that his group “strongly opposes corporate tax increases as a pay-for for infrastructure investment.”

“Policymakers should avoid creating new barriers to job creation and economic growth,” Mr. Bolten said, “particularly during the recovery.”

How Tonko helped shape Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan into a climate bill

Emilie Munson  

WASHINGTON — After weeks of behind-the-scenes conversations working on the package with White House officials, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said Tuesday President Joe Biden's  $2 trillion infrastructure plan will "result in a huge climate response," through investments in electric vehicles, renewable energy, and weatherization.

Tonko, who leads a House subcommittee on climate change, has been working with cabinet officials and White House liaisons to ensure Democrats' key environmental priorities are tucked in the infrastructure plan that Biden will unveil in a speech in Pennsylvania Wednesday.

"I think it's got the basics," Tonko said in an interview Tuesday.

Broadly, the infrastructure plan will direct $2 trillion over the next decade to upgrade the nation's transportation system, improve Internet, electricity and water systems, building out the country's care-giving industry and invest in research and development, an administration official said. Each investment will be underpinned by directives to make this infrastructure greener, low-emission, sustainable and able to survive climate change-fueled weather disasters.

The plan will invest $115 billion to modernize the nation's worst road and bridges, $80 billion to improve Amtrak, including in the high-traffic North East corridor, and billions more to improve airports and water ports, an administration official said. It will also deliver "100 percent coverage" for broadband, improve public school buildings and veterans hospitals and invest in research in semiconductors, advance computing and other technology.

The plan will be paid for over 15 years by tax changes Biden is also proposing, an administration official said. Those include raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, setting a global minimum corporate tax, take steps to block off-shoring of jobs and increasing tax enforcement against companies.

Biden has been clear that he views climate-related investments as a huge economic driver and a big part of the path out of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. In his first days in office, Biden set a goal of making the power sector "carbon pollution free" by 2035 and achieving net-zero emissions across the entire American economy by 2050.

As a result, Biden's massive infrastructure plan goes well beyond roads, bridges and buildings, advancing many of Democrats' foremost climate priorities.

The bill will feature $174 billion investment to help put more electric cars on the road, based on a proposal developed by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. It would offer incentives for Americans to exchange their gas-powered car for an electric one and invest in putting electric vehicle charging stations all over the country. The federal government would buy electric vehicles for its fleet, including the U.S. Postal Service.

"Senator Schumer was proud to be an early champion for transforming American cars from carbon-polluting engines to clean electric energy and is glad that candidate Biden adopted this vital push," said Allison Biasotti, a spokeswoman for Schumer, who worked closely with the administration on the bill. "Sen. Schumer looks forward to working with President Biden to realize this change because the catastrophe of climate change requires big, bold change."

Tonko said he "stressed" the need for electric vehicle investments "big time," in recent conversations with the executive branch on the bill. Tonko spoke with White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and members of the White House Climate Task Force, a group that includes the heads of nearly every federal agency as well as other federal officials, he said.

Tonko said he highlighted in conversations with the administration prioritizing investments in weatherizing buildings, using tax credits to offer long-term support to the renewable energy sector and implementing a "clean energy standard," a baseline that requires a certain amount of the nation's electricity portfolio to come from renewable energy or low emission sources.

Biden's plan will establish a new federal "Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard," an administration official said, but did not specify what the standard would be.

The infrastructure plan will also invest $35 billion into research in climate science and methods for reducing emissions. Biden will ask for $46 billion to help the federal government purchase clean energy technology to upgrade its own systems.

The infrastructure package will also offer tax credits to incentivize the construction of new high-voltage transmission lines to move power around the country and tax credits to support companies involved in clean energy generation and storage. In addition, the bill will put money toward building energy efficient homes and schools.

Matt Huber, associate professor of Geography and the Environment at Syracuse University, said many of the ideas included in the plan sound similar to former President Barack Obama's climate-related stimulus measures, which leaned heavily on electric vehicles and tax credits and have helped renewable energy expand quickly.

"The Clean Electricity Standard is the new policy on the block," Huber said. "It's the new exciting magic bullet policy. Carbon pricing had been that, carbon taxes in particular, and nowadays people have moved away from that."

All these infrastructure measures will either have to win bipartisan support to pass through Congress or Democrats might again use a complicated budget process to pass them with Republican support.

Progressives in Congress, like Tonko, have been pushing the administration to use the Democratic majorities to make sweeping change in areas like climate change and on other priorities.

"Certainly there are the tools in the kit for climate response that are required in ordered for us to reach our rather robust goals in response to decarbonization," Tonko said Tuesday. "At the same time, even for those who may not embrace the concept or urgency of climate, is it so difficult or so negative to clean the air we breathe, to make more safe the water we drink and remediate the soils we require?"

Some Democrats, like Green New Deal architect, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., want Biden to go even further on climate: he's advocating for $10 trillion in spending over the next decade.

Republicans are expected to oppose many parts of the infrastructure plan, especially its tax proposal, which would unwind portions of their 2017 tax law.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any enthusiasm on our side for a tax increase," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this month.


How Biden’s offshore wind plans could blow in a clean energy boom in Connecticut

Emilie Munson

WASHINGTON — More wind farms are expected to crop up off the coast of New England in the coming years after the Biden administration gave the industry a long-awaited boost this week — a move that will help Connecticut meet its clean energy goals and launch a burgeoning industry in the state.

The Biden administration announced it will prioritize an area off the coast of New York for offshore wind projects, fund new port investments, kick off more environmental reviews and take other steps to allow wind projects that have sat on idle to move ahead with a federal green-light.

“This is really, really exciting,” said Katie Dykes, state Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “Many northeastern states like Connecticut have for years been laying the groundwork for this industry to come online in a meaningful that will combat the climate crisis and spur economic growth. Having a federal partner on this endeavor will unlock many areas of support.”

The Biden administration set a goal to develop 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which the administration said would be enough to power 10 million homes and cut 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Connecticut has its own goal set by the legislature: purchasing 2 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. But Dykes said Tuesday the state could need more than double that amount if it wants to meet its goal of sourcing all of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2040.

“We projected that we could need about 5000 megawatts of offshore wind in total by the time we get to 2040,” Dykes said.

That means Connecticut is likely to sign more offshore wind procurement contracts in the next several years. Connecticut has already signed contracts with two offshore wind projects off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts — Park City Wind, which will have on-shore operations in Bridgeport, and Revolution Wind, which will call New London its land base.

Offshore wind energy is expensive, so these investments are not expected to lower rates for Connecticut consumers right away.

There could be big upsides to the state’s economy to developing offshore wind, with job creation expected in particular in New London and Bridgeport. But critics also worry about environmental impact of the turbines on wildlife and consequences for other industries.

“It’s not often we get the opportunity to get on the ground floor of a brand new industry, especially those that have been successful in other parts of the world,” said Rep. Paul Formica, a Republican who helps lead the Connecticut legislature’s energy committee and represents part of New London. “But we have to make sure we protect our maritime industries and our fisherman as we are looking for the next generation of energy generation.”

By designating 800,000 acres in the New York Bight — a shallow water area off the coast of Long Island and New Jersey — as a priority region for wind turbines, the U.S. Interior Department is allowing projects in those waters to advance, setting up possible lease sales for one or more projects in late 2021 or early 2022.

Avangrid Renewables LLC, based on Orange Conn., has informed the Department of its interest leasing part of the New York Bight.

Avangrid is already a co-developer in the Vineyard Wind project, what’s expected to be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S., located off the coast of Massachusetts. A subset of an area leased by Vineyard Wind is being called Park City Wind and will supply power to Connecticut residents.

Avangrid declined to provide details on its ideas for the New York Bight, but said Tuesday “We look forward to working with the federal government and other key stakeholders as we continue to develop the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in U.S. waters, through our joint venture Vineyard Wind, and additional offshore wind projects to power America’s clean energy future.”

The Biden administration also announced that it would fund $230 million in grants to strengthen and modernize ports that will support offshore wind infrastructure, make loans available to back the industry and fund more wind energy research and development. Dykes indicated interest in these grants Tuesday to support the state’s two deepwater ports in Bridgeport and New London, both of which will be home to offshore wind operations.

The Biden administration also expected to permit wind projects more expeditiously than the previous administration and announced that it will soon conduct several environmental reviews for wind farms.

Collectively, these steps could help the country quickly add more offshore wind farms, particularly along the New York and New England coastline. Only two offshore wind facilities are now standing in U.S. waters.

Connecticut has big plans to tap wind energy as shifts away from fossil fuels. At present, roughly 65 percent of electricity consumed in Connecticut is from zero-emission renewable energy and zero-carbon nuclear sources, according the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. By 2025, 91 of energy consumption in the state will come from those sources, based on contracts the state has already signed, Dykes said.

Those contracts include a deal to buy roughly 800 megawatts from Park City Wind when it is operational in 2025 and about 300 megawatts from Revolution Wind, a project off the coast of Rhode Island being developed by Danish company Ørsted and the state’s primary electric company, Eversource Energy.

Lamont personally traveled to Washington, D.C. to court Ørsted as it formed an offshore wind deal with Connecticut. Revolution Wind was expected to be under construction in 2023 and 2024, but that timeline will likely be delayed the companies said Tuesday. It will provide enough power to fuel 350,000 homes in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

“We’re proud to be building the first utility-scale offshore wind farms serving New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and we stand ready to support the bold path President Biden is charting for a nation fueled by affordable clean energy,” Ørsted and Eversource said in a joint statement.

Staging, operations and maintenance for the Revolution Wind Project will take place at the State Pier in New London. Connecticut in 2020 announced a $157 million joint public-private investment with Ørsted and Eversource to redevelop the State Pier and equip it to meet the needs of the offshore wind industry. The pier project is expected to created over 400 construction jobs and sustain 100 jobs thereafter. Construction on the pier will start in 2021.

In Bridgeport, Barnum Landing is slated for a makeover into an offshore wind operations and maintenance area. Construction at Barnum Landing is expected to start in 2023 and offshore construction of the wind turbines for Park City wind in 2024, said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Park City Wind.

Vineyard Wind has committed to using Barnum Landing for its operations for at least 25 years. Local officials hope other wind projects now in the pipeline will use the Bridgeport and New London ports too.

The New York Bight leases mean more wind farms will be erected not far from Connecticut’s shorelines, but it’s unclear whether any of them will be able to supply power to the state. That will depend on how the developers and government partners structure transmission lines to move the electricity from the wind turbine to the substation and onto the grid.

State Rep. David Arconti, D-Danbury, said he was disappointed the Biden plan did not also make immediate investments in transmission lines help move power from the numerous wind farms that are in development to states that are not adjacent to the projects.

“It’s not pointless but unless there are legitimate blue prints by [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] to build out transmission system, we’re not going to reach full capacity for all this stuff,” Arconti said.

Dykes said she believes loans announcements by the Biden administration Monday will support transmission development. The six New England statements are jointly working on plans to bolster a power transmission backbone to support the region.

Formica noted that $230 million to support port infrastructure was “not nearly enough” and he also worried the administration was not spending enough to study environmental effects of wind turbines.

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, praised the offshore wind announcement though: “The United States is back in the climate game and ready to use all the tools in our tool belt to reduce our emissions and create a healthier future for people and wildlife, alike.”

The Biden administration said the new wind projects will help the nation meet climate goals and reduce global warming, create thousands of jobs and strengthen supply chains. The administration said the New York Bight leases alone would support 32,000 jobs from 2022 to 2030.

"President Biden believes we have an enormous opportunity in front of us to not only address the threats of climate change, but use it as a chance to create millions of good-paying, union jobs that will fuel America’s economic recovery, rebuild the middle class, and make sure we bounce back from the crises we face," said National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy Monday. "Nowhere is the scale of that opportunity clearer than for offshore wind."

The offshore wind announcement announcement comes before Biden is expected to announce a multi-trillion plan for infrastructure investment, including more investment in renewable energy technology, on Wednesday.


Before key committee vote, Lamont makes final push for climate friendly initiative in New Britain

Catherine Shen  

NEW BRITAIN – On the eve of a key committee vote to pass a climate friendly initiative, Gov. Ned Lamont made a final push Tuesday to urge state legislature to approve the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

With New Britain’s CTfastrak station and Columbus Commons, a transit-oriented housing complex, serving as a backdrop, Lamont said this is what transportation-oriented development looks like.

“In order for us to continue to do transit-oriented development, we have to be able to continue to pay for more transit and more affordable housing,” he said.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative Program, or TCI-P, is a multi-jurisdictional collaboration to reduce greenhouse gases and invest in more resilient transportation systems for the state and the region. In December 2020, Lamont, alongside Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to work to implement TCI-P in their respective jurisdictions.

Once implemented, the state said proceeds from the initiative are projected to generate up to $89 million in 2023, increasing to as much as $117 million in 2032, for the state to re-invest in clean transportation options and infrastructure. It could also reduce carbon emissions by at least 26% from 2022 to 2032.

On the local level, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said it was through partnerships with the state that developments like Columbus Commons can be made into a reality and entice people to use public transportation.

“What the property used to be was the old New Britain Police Department,” she said. “It took a lot of work to build Columbus Commons from the ground up and the brand-new housing was made possible because of the accessibility to CTfastrak.”

“There are communities from all over the state that can benefit from opportunities like this if it was made available to them,” she said, stating it is also about clean energy, which is something she has been focused on locally, including developing city initiatives to reduce carbon footprint and implementing pedestrian friendly sidewalks and bike lanes.

The latest pedestrian-friendly project is the Beeline Trail, an off-road multi-use trail with the goal of connecting New Britain to Plainville and Farmington’s Heritage Trail in the near future, which will be funded by a state grant.

A lot of these projects wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for some type of assistance, Stewart said. “The local leaders are the ones that have the vision, and we know how to use the funds to the best of our communities. But we need the money to be available to us.”

Garrett Eucalitto, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, agreed and said the state has been a proud partner of the city’s strategic plans, including the CTfastrak station and the Beehive Bridge.

To be able to continue to help cities like New Britain and other surrounding towns require funding, he said. “Without these funding streams, without TCI, we can’t expand transit service to unserved areas. We can’t increase frequency and reliability.”

Lamont said the state currently spends $400 million subsidizing public transportation.

“We’ll be able to use some of the TCI money to help out with bus service and such and that frees up other money to help with our transportation fund,” he said. “Combined with highway user fees, it’s how we’re able to pay for more transportation-oriented developments like what you’re seeing here today. These are the types of investments that make an enormous difference. We have to start taking care of this in a serious way.”


 Courtney announces federal funds to Groton company to support national offshore wind goals

Greg Smith 

ThayerMahan, a Groton-based marine robotics and maritime surveillance company, has been selected to receive funding as part of a national initiative to bolster the growth of the offshore wind projects.

The company was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium as one of 15 projects to share a part of the $8 million in federal funding.

Congressman Joe Courtney announced on Tuesday that ThayerMahan will receive the funding to support its ongoing work in submarine cable innovation to reduce failures, electrical losses and cost — ”a project particularly well-suited to help the growing wind industry reduce impacts on the ocean environment and ensure infrastructure stability,” Courtney said.

The award comes on the heels of an announcement Monday by Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm about plans to expand offshore wind farms along the East Coast with a national goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore windpower by 2030 — enough to power more than 10 million American homes and cut 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The goal is projected by the government to spur $12 billion in capital investment annually, leading to the construction of up to 10 new manufacturing plants for offshore wind turbine components, new ships to install offshore wind turbines, and up to $500 million in port upgrades.

“As the Biden Administration sets course on a new era of carbon-free energy production, eastern Connecticut is extremely well-positioned to take advantage of the growing, permanent opportunities in the offshore wind energy sector,” Courtney said in a statement. “Our highly skilled, maritime-focused workforce has a deep bench and growing, and we have a new Administration ready to make serious, long-term commitments to kick our nation’s clean energy economy into high-gear, particularly with offshore wind.”

Locally, New London’s State Pier is poised to become a staging area for offshore wind farms being built by the joint venture partners of Danish wind company Ørsted and utility company Eversource. Ørsted and Eversource are investing $77.5 million into State Pier. Ørsted operates the country’s only operating wind farm, the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm generating 30 megawatts off the coast of Rhide Island.

Mike Connor, ThayerMahan’s CEO, said in a statement the company was honored to have been selected.

“We will be working alongside giants in the industry including Ørsted, Global Marine Group and SUNY Maritime College.  We continue to hire talented engineers and technicians here in Connecticut who want to be a part of the country’s energy future,” Connor said. “The State of Connecticut helped get our business to the point where we were ready to deliver through programs like CT Innovations.

“Governor Lamont and his team deserve a lot of the credit.  We also deeply appreciate the work that Congressman Courtney has done over many years to ensure that Southeastern Connecticut’s highly developed maritime industry plays an important role in America’s energy future.”

In January, 2020, ThayerMahan announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Ørsted and Eversource to monitor wildlife and seabeds in connection with the Revolution Wind offshore wind project. Revolution Wind, once built, is expected to supply 304 megawatts to Connecticut and 400 megawatts to Rhode Island.

The full list of projects can be found on the Wind Energy Technologies Office website.


State bets on renewable energy with shift in investment strategy

Liese Klein  

Wind and solar projects will make up a bigger portion of the state’s investments under a shift in strategy announced today by state Treasurer Shawn Wooden.

The state has committed $100 million to BlackRock Global Renewable Power Fund III (GRP III), a portfolio of renewable power generation infrastructure assets focused on wind and solar energy, Wooden reported. 

The investment is Connecticut’s first purely focused on renewable energy, Wooden said.  

“The commitment to Blackrock GRP III will help position Connecticut to transition into the future by playing an increasingly important role in reducing overall carbon emission and becoming a leader in clean energy,” Wooden said.
Wooden said his investment decisions were guided by the climate change positions of the Connecticut Retirement Plans & Trust Funds (CRPTF) Investment Policy Statement, which predict major economic disruption as soon as 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current levels. 

“By investing in renewable energies, Connecticut can be part of the solution to reduce our carbon footprint while also benefiting our economy and saving taxpayer dollars in the long-term,” Wooden said.

Wooden also announced Tuesday that the state’s Investment Advisory Council earlier this month approved proposed revisions to the CRPTF’s domestic proxy voting policies, which are designed to ensure that the state’s investments align with metrics that correlate with stronger company performance. 

Wooden’s revisions added provisions holding companies accountable for board diversity, climate risk and director independence. 

“There is a mounting body of evidence that the diversity of a company’s board of directors is an important attribute of a well-functioning board, an indicator of sound corporate governance, and positively correlated with increased shareholder value,” Wooden said in announcing the revisions.

The Dotted Line: Beefing up Davis-Bacon compliance

Kim Slowey

Most contractors that have performed work for publicly funded projects are likely familiar with prevailing wage requirements. Even those jobs performed under the terms of a project labor agreement typically will guarantee a specific wage rate.

At the federal level, how much workers are paid per hour, including benefits, is governed by the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts.

Davis-Bacon wage rates are set according to what contractors local to the job typically pay, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, but also rely on input from other “interested parties” like trade unions to set minimum wage rates for those working on qualified projects. Depending on the part of the country, prevailing wage rates can be much higher than what an employee normally earns performing the same tasks on a private sector project.

And it’s not only federal work where employers will have to pay a prevailing wage. Many states like Alaska, California and Illinois have adopted their own versions of the federal regulation, known as “Little Davis-Bacon” laws, for projects using state funds.

Davis-Bacon has drawn protests from construction employer groups like Associated Builders and Contractors, which claims that the process for determining prevailing wage rates is not a transparent one and that Davis-Bacon itself makes it difficult for smaller open shop contractors to compete by adding extra labor costs to their scopes of work.

Prevailing wage advocates like the Economic Policy Institute, however, argue that without a rate floor, some contractors will cut wages in order to win projects rather than compete by finding other efficiencies.

Despite the controversy, there are no signs that Davis-Bacon regulations are going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the new Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, is a former union leader who supported a statewide minimum wage of $15 per hour in Massachusetts, and President Joe Biden has made it clear that he wants to create “good union jobs” through his proposed infrastructure initiatives.

Earlier this year, the GAO released the results of a study it conducted on the way the Army Corps of Engineers monitors its contractors for compliance with Davis-Bacon requirements. The Corps obligated more than $11 billion for construction work in 2019 and was the Defense Department’s biggest construction spender.

Among the agency’s findings were that the Army Corps lacks enforcement consistency across its districts as far as how it selects contractor payroll records for review and exactly which records it requests.

Even though ordered by the last administration as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Army Corps report could be the beginning of more robust compliance and enforcement efforts regarding Davis-Bacon, legal experts say. Therefore, the time is now for contractors to shore up their Davis-Bacon recordkeeping and compliance.

Construction firms can take the following steps to ensure they are compliant:

Be as proactive as possible in ascertaining the prevailing wage status of a project. Some projects are obviously subject to Davis-Bacon, like a federally funded highway or a Department of Veteran Affairs hospital project. However, the status of other projects might not be so clear-cut, said attorney Jonathan Landesman, partner and co-chair of the Labor and Employment Group at Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC. 

In New Jersey, for example, a privately owned office building can be subject to prevailing wages if a certain percentage will be leased to a governmental entity, he said. Some charter schools may also be covered projects, as are projects that receive federal tax breaks or other incentives. 

“Even if in the situation where the awarding government entity tells the contractor that it's not a covered project … that does not excuse the contractor from failing to pay the rate,” Landesman said. "The Department of Labor will not excuse violations.”

There could be more flexibility with fines and penalties if the contractor can show a good faith effort to comply, he said.

Communicate with subs. General contractors are ultimately responsible for their and their subcontractors’ compliance, so they should make sure to let subs know about any Davis-Bacon requirements, said attorney Lawrence Prosen with Cozen O’Connor in Washington, D.C.

Even union rates might not meet prevailing wage requirements. Union contractors, said Landesman, also need to check the prevailing wage rates on a project and make sure they’re in compliance, particularly if they work in multiple jurisdictions.

“The collective bargaining rate — it very frequently matches what the prevailing wage is but not always,” he said.

Keep up with paperwork. It can be difficult for contractors to manage the paperwork involved in a Davis-Bacon project, namely the required certified payroll forms, said attorney Eric Su, a partner in Crowell & Moring’s Labor & Employment Group in New York City.

Contractors and subcontractors are required to use these forms to enter job information, as well as the work classification, hours worked and wage rate paid for each employee. And whoever, signs the form does so under penalty of perjury, so that makes it even more important that all the information is correct.

And that is no small feat, Su said. Contractors must track entry and exit from the project, lunch and other breaks and make sure no one is working outside the parameters of the hours submitted on the certified payroll forms to the contracting agency, he said. Contractors and subcontractors must also assign the correct work classification to each employee, and that becomes more difficult if one person is performing two or more types of work at different rates.

“It’s very difficult to differentiate that work in a very fine way,” Su said.

Work classifications can also change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, making it difficult for contractors to choose the correct one, he said.

Even though some construction companies assign supervisors or foremen to track this critical worker hour and wage information, that’s not all it takes to ensure that they will have the necessary backup if either the contracting agency or employee claims that they were underpaid or assigned the wrong rate, Su said.

Often there are many levels of reporting going on during a workday, he said. Some are tracking work progress, while others are reporting how many workers showed up that day and when. Even the process of screening employees after they enter the job can result in reported differences as to when the same employee started work.

Track all workers on a project. Independent contractors and pieceworkers add another layer of complexity because they also must also be paid in such a way that meets the prevailing wage, Su said.

Prosen said he hasn’t seen any evidence yet that the Biden administration is getting ready to crack down on contractors performing prevailing wage rate but would not be surprised if the same scrutiny the Army Corp received did not seep into other federal agencies.

No matter how stringent oversight will be during the next few years, however, the most important things contractors can do is to document everything and maintain their records in an organized way.

“A lot of that comes down to good habits, good training of your employees, particularly your field supervisors or superintendents,” he said. “That is very important.”