March 31, 2003

Ground fault protection expertise found on the Web

Resistance grounding specialist, IPC Resistors, Inc. has launched a revised website offering expanded content for all users, from electrical engineers to service contractors and consultants, needing to learn more about neutral grounding and power resistors.

The website, www.ipc-resistors.com, now includes detailed product information such as manuals, schematics, and specification templates. Educational materials are available discussing the basics of ground fault protection and comparing various grounding methods across applications.



March 31, 2003

Housing starts plunge in February

The housing market was at an all-time high at the beginning of 2003, but new home construction is beginning to slow down due to an uncertain economy and weak job market. The Department of Commerce reported that housing starts plummeted from 1.82 million in January to 1.62 million in February. Cold and wet weather nationwide, coupled with the expectations of war, led to the 11% decline, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Single-family housing starts fell 13.7% to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.3 million units. While this was a significant drop, it came close to record-setting 2002 numbers. The multifamily housing sector, however, posted a 2% gain in February to 327,000 units. Here’s some more good news: residential building permits edged up four-tenths of a percent to 1.79 million units. The housing market may not continue on its record-setting pace, but economists predict that it will continue to stay strong as long as interest rates remain low.



March 28, 2003

Reed Construction Data launches private plan room

Reed Construction Data (formerly CMD), a provider of construction information products and services, announced the launch of its Private Plan Room. Through a third party vendor, Private Plan Rooms are set up for customers for a one-time fee and a minimal, annual hosting fee. With the Private Plan Room, owners, developers and general contractors have complete control over which projects they post on the secure Web site and which businesses have access to their documents.

“For owners, developers and general contractors, getting plans and specs to the necessary businesses in a timely fashion during the bidding phase is crucial,” said David Windsor, director, product management for Reed Construction Data. “It is particularly beneficial to the subcontractor. Through the Private Plan Room, the subcontractor gains immediate access to new projects to bid and can begin their estimating process immediately, saving them time and money.”



March 28, 2003

Bill to eliminate bid shopping on federal government construction re-introduced

The American Subcontractors Association (ASA) applauded longtime friend of the subcontractors Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., for re-introducing legislation that would prohibit the practice of ‘bid shopping’ on federal construction contracts. The bill (H.R. 1348) was introduced on March 19.

“Bid shopping threatens the integrity of the competitive bid system and reduces the quality of work performed for American taxpayers,” said Rep. Kanjorski. “This bill would ensure that contractors maintain the quality of work promised in their initial bids to the federal government and it would restore fairness and stability to the construction industry.”

The bill states that no party, including the government, prime contractors, and subcontractors, shall engage in bid shopping, or will face penalties of liquidated damages, or in case of three or more violations within a five-year period, possible debarment. The bill would equally prohibit all forms of bid shopping, effectively eliminating online reverse auctions for federal construction.

The legislation defines bid shopping as the practice of divulging a contractor’s or subcontractor’s bid or proposal or requiring a contractor or subcontractor to divulge its bid or proposal to another prospective contractor or subcontractor before the award of a contract or subcontract in order to secure a lower bid or proposal.



March 26, 2003

Federal Reserve report presents discouraging economic numbers

Reports from twelve districts compiled in the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book suggest that growth in economic activity remained subdued in January and February. Only a few districts reported any notable changes from the last report.

Business spending was soft, with little change in capital spending or hiring plans. Nearly all districts indicated that real estate and construction activities were mixed; residential construction was strong, while nonresidential construction was lagging. Despite describing manufacturing activity as weak or lackluster, half of the districts noted at least some degree of improvement.

Housing demand generally appeared to be strongest for low-and moderate-priced units. Most regions said that net new demand for office space remained weak. Vacancy rates continued to rise, and downward pressure on rents persisted. Most districts suggested that there were few, if any, expectations of a near-term improvement in commercial real estate and building activities.

The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book is a summary of economic conditions reported by businesses in informal surveys conducted by the 12 Federal Reserve Banks around the country, which are referenced by number and name of the headquarter’s city.



March 26, 2003

U.S. power line upgrade thought to be hobbled by credit

Merchant power transmission projects to move cheap electricity to high demand areas like New York City are being hobbled by the same credit crunch that decimated U.S. power trading, industry sources say. Merchant transmission projects, unlike the network of high-voltage lines built over the past century by regulated utilities, are commercial ventures that would charge market rates for carrying megawatts to wherever they’re most needed.

One such project would use an underwater transmission line to move Canadian electricity to power-hungry New York City. The Neptune project’s original timetable was pushed back after a client was hit with the same credit downgrade that has hurt most U.S. electricity and natural gas traders since the Enron Corp. collapse late in 2001.

Bottlenecks preventing the movement of cheaper power added over $145 million to the electricity bills of U.S. consumers in constrained regions in the summer of 2001 alone, according to a study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.



March 24, 2003

Capstone authorizes MGE UPS Systems as service provider for the Americas

Capstone Turbine named MGE UPS Systems as its first multinational service provider with the ability to offer Capstone equipment customers a service network spanning all of the Americas.

“MGE’s expansive service network encompasses virtually all major cities in North America and most of Central and South America,” says David McShane, Capstone’s vice president of quality and customer service. “In the power reliability arena, service and responsiveness are absolutely critical. MGE has the experienced personnel and the proven reputation to deliver a consistent, top-notch level of service to their customers and to Capstone’s growing customer base.”

In addition to many of MGE’s service personnel, Capstone has factory-trained more than 300 authorized service provider technicians. The arrangement with MGE enhances that service network, providing Capstone distributors the choice of using their own trained technicians, a third-party authorized service provider, or the new option of working with MGE’s network of specialists.



March 24, 2003

King Safety Products announces new name

King Innovation is the new corporate name for King Safety Products. The announcement was made by company CEO, L. Herbert King, Jr. The name change to King Innovation reflects the company’s mission with the safe, quality products.

“We continually improve our products through innovative thinking in order to exceed customer expectations for quality products and service excellence,” says King. “The name King Innovation encompasses the company we have become today.”

Deborah Hostetter, vice president of marketing, says the company will assertively promote its products under the new name and that the industry’s familiarity with the company’s patented silicone-filled connector has assured a smooth transition to the new name.



March 21, 2003

IEC and OSHA examine progress

In the year since the Labor Department announced that Hispanic worker safety was a growing concern for the Bush administration, OSHA has translated much of its Web site information into Spanish, started gathering demographics on fatalities involving Hispanic workers, and is searching for ways to reach at-risk workers.

John Miles, OSHA's Regional Administrator for Dallas who heads the agency’s taskforce on Hispanic worker safety, cited a toll-free OSHA hotline that offers information in Spanish and a glossary that is being produced to give compliance officers the most commonly used Spanish words for workplace equipment.

“We at IEC would like to encourage employers to post these materials on bulletin boards or in safety newsletters for their employees,” says Marc Ramirez of Hatfield-Reynolds Electric Inc., in Phoenix, Ariz. Ramirez, who is active on IEC’s National Safety Committee, says that the problem might be that Hispanic workers are not aware of these resources. “Not everyone has online access, so it helps to talk about these issues in safety meetings and make sure that resources are available to everyone through a variety of modes of communication.

About one year ago, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said that in 2000, the fatality rate for Hispanic workers had climbed by more than 11% while death rates for all other groups had declined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hispanic worker deaths increased in 2001 by 9%, from 815 workers killed in 2000 to 891 workers in 2001.



March 21, 2003

Liebert launches online resource

Liebert Corporation announced the launch of Consultant’s Corner, a secure Web-based resource for engineers and consultants involved in the design, installation, and management of computer support systems, including power protection, precision environmental control and site monitoring.

Consultant’s Corner speeds the design process and ensures support systems are optimized for each project through a range of design tools, detailed technical information and comprehensive, up-to-date product specifications. It provides quick turnaround of sizing and capacity data and reduces the dependence on paper catalogs for product information. The site also includes current industry news and a secure projects file area where consultants can store project-specific information and access it via the Web, regardless of location.



March 19, 2003

Power Distribution Inc. licenses system to Square D

Power Distribution, Inc. announced the licensing of its Branch Circuit Monitoring System technology (BCMS) to Square D Company. Through the agreement, BCMS technology will be provided for sale by Square D and its subsidiaries. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The BCMS technology enables the individual current monitoring of branch circuit breakers, typically installed in electrical panelboards. It measures and reports the current of each individual panelboard circuit allowing for proactive management of every device in a facility.



March 19, 2003

BGCE launches Commissioning Agents USA

Beaudin Ganze Consulting Engineers, Inc. (BGCE) has launched a new division, Commissioning Agents USA, which is devoted to providing a variety of commissioning services, including total building commissioning services for new buildings, re-commissioning services for existing buildings, LEED commissioning services, and building systems performance and energy audits.

Total Building Commissioning is a process of documentation and verification of design intent that begins at pre-design—incorporating input from owners, prospective occupants, operations and maintenance staff—through construction and start-up, to several checkpoints during the initial years of operation.

A study of 60 buildings by Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory found that 50% suffered from control problems; 40% had HVAC equipment problems; 15% had missing equipment; and around 25% had malfunctioning system efficiency components. Commissioning Agents USA will be re-commissioning buildings such as these to identify specific deficiencies and recommend remedial strategies.



March 17, 2003

January construction spending sets record

Total construction spending rose 1.7% in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $877.9 billion, according to the Commerce Department. This January was the largest increase in a year, while the increase in private construction was the largest in almost two years. The construction-spending rise was led by a 2.5% jump in residential construction to a record level of $452.6 billion.

Overall private construction spending increased 1.9% to $667.9 billion in January. Private nonresidential construction, which includes office buildings, hospitals, and factories, fell .3% on the month. Public construction of roads, sewer systems, hospitals, and schools rose 1% in January after a .6% increase in December.



March 17, 2003

New Jersey Labor Management Council launches statewide project

The New Jersey State Building and Construction Trades Labor Management Council (LMC) announced the launch of a statewide awareness campaign to educate public officers and private developers regarding the benefits associated with Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).

“As an effective project management tool for private, long-term construction projects for decades, it is our goal to increase awareness within the public sector to demonstrate that PLAs are the formula for success for New Jersey’s publicly funded projects, including school construction,” says Frank Wade, director of the council.

LMC’s educational campaign includes reaching out to school board members, administrators, teachers, and parents on a statewide basis. The multi-tiered marketing effort consists of direct mail, a question-and-answer brochure, and presentations designed to address unique district needs. The campaign includes a general overview of PLAs that includes potential signatory participants, common elements and fundamentals, contractor requirements, and overall benefits to the school district, taxpayers, and the community.



March 14, 2003

Wisconsin tech school begins renewable energy project

An $80,000 grant from the Wisconsin Focus on Energy Renewable Energy program allowed Nicolet Area Technical College in Rhinelander, Wis., to recently install a 10kW, 120-ft wind turbine on its campus. The turbine is part of the school’s EcoVillage project, which will include renewable energy systems and energy efficient structures for residential and institutional use.

Along with a photovoltaic system yet to be installed, the wind turbine will generate electricity for the college, and both systems will be connected to the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. power grid. Excess energy will be sold back to the utility.

The project also calls for the construction of a home with zero net annual utility power consumption. The home will get its energy from wind turbine and solar panels.



March 14, 2003

Engineering firm teams with OSHA to promote careers in construction

The construction workforce is dwindling, but Kansas and Missouri middle school and high school students are getting some encouragement to consider the profession. Black & Veatch, a Kansas City-based engineering and construction company, recently joined with OSHA and the Center for Construction Excellence (CCE) at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to promote students’ achievement in math, science, English, and technology classes.

OSHA and the firm will develop a construction safety component to the existing CCE curriculum, which provides instruction on how to draw blueprints, estimate costs, and build models. The curriculum will be used in area middles schools and high schools to encourage students to pursue careers in the construction industry.



March 12, 2003

GE shopping around its electrical division; moves transformer plant

Looking to dump $5 billion to $10 billion in assets in 2003, GE is courting buyers of its motor manufacturing and lighting divisions. The company spent more than $9 billion in 2002 on industrial acquisitions.

According to a recent article in Barron’s, the investment weekly newspaper from Dow Jones, GE Capital has a 7-to-1 debt-to-equity ratio. However, the company’s debt has AAA ratings from the Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s.

In other GE news, the company recently announced it will move part of its electrical transformer and manufacturing operation from Shreveport, La., to Monterrey, Mexico. About half of the plant’s jobs will be eliminated in the transition.



March 12, 2003

Independent electrical workers gain online source for job searches

Independent electrical contractors now have access to an online database of job listings, thanks to a partnership between IEC and ELECTRICjob.com. The database has more than 1,300 client companies in the trades and is home to more than 11,000 resumes.

IEC members will receive a 20% discount on services provided by the Web site, and they can also link directly from the members only section of the IEC Web site to the database. ELECTRICjob.com also supplies an automated scouting service that e-mails qualified resumes daily to employers, using the job titles and region that employers may be seeking.

Gene Mini, IEC national president, says larger job posting sites don’t specialize enough for tradesmen. “ELECTRICjob.com is a better avenue for IEC members because it is an extremely focused service,” he says.

Those dragging their feet about putting their resume online might want to reconsider. A recent study conducted by the Employment Management Association found that advertising jobs online is much less expensive than doing so in print media, so searching for work on the Internet may continue to gain popularity.



March 10, 2003

Convention center to be the first site for San Francisco renewable energy project

The first project to take advantage of a $100 million bond for renewable energy endeavors in the city of San Francisco is about to get under way. The roof of the Moscone Convention Center will soon be covered with 65,000 sq ft of photovoltaic solar panels.

The $7.4 million project, which is expected to produce 825,000 kWh each year, could cut the convention center’s annual utility bill by $639,000. The power produced by the 675kW array will be used within the building.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has also begun planning a 300kW array for the roof of a city-owned and operated wastewater treatment plant.



March 10, 2003

NFPA brings back residential wiring
guide book after decade absence

For the first time in 10 years, the NFPA recently compiled all of the National Electrical Code’s rules on residential wiring in one publication in response to requests for a one-stop home wiring code. NFPA 70A, “National Electrical Code Requirements for One- and Two-Family Dwellings,” is organized like the NEC and focuses exclusively on the Code requirements that pertain to the electrical systems of homes.

The requirements cover general power distribution, specialized systems, and equipment like air-conditioning, electric heat, swimming pools, and telecommunications networks.

NFPA 70A was last published in 1993 but then discontinued.



March 7, 2003

Report names 60 companies involved in California energy price fixing

A 1,000-page report filed this week by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) names nearly 60 companies allegedly involved in a price fixing scam that precipitated the state’s 2000-2001 energy crisis. The list, handed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), includes the two companies –- Duke Energy and AES/Williams -- subpoenaed in November by a federal grand jury for alleged involvement in driving up energy prices during the crisis.

A coalition including the CPUC and the state’s attorney general claims the report supports both its outstanding demand for $7.5 billion in consumer refunds and a demand for almost $9 billion to cover the cost of emergency energy purchases. A FERC judge ruled in December that the state was only owed $1.8 billion in overcharges.

FERC’s three commissioners have promised to issue a final ruling in the case by the end of March.



March 7, 2003

Siemens turbine plant to lay off another 190 employees

As it warned was possible when it cut nearly 140 jobs in September, the Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp., Charlotte, N.C., has been forced to lay off an additional 190 employees to cope with falling demand. The 20% reduction in headcount will begin at the end of the month and last through April 30, according to The Charlotte Observer.

As recently as last summer, the plant had nearly 1,000 employees. That number will drop to about 650 after the most recent layoffs.

Those losing their jobs will receive severance pay, benefits extension, a retraining allowance, help with resumes, and job placement aid, the plant’s human resources manager told the newspaper.



March 5, 2003

New York utility has eye on alternative power with fuel cell purchase

The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) recently took the first step toward reaching New York Governor George Pataki’s goal of supplying 25% of the state’s electricity with alternative energy within 10 years with an announcement that it would buy 45 fuel cells this year.

The fuel cells, which will come from Plug Power, Inc., will be divided between LIPA’s West Babylon fuel cell demonstration site and 20 residences, where they will be used for heat and power.

In the past, LIPA has also installed fuel cells at commercial locations on Long Island, including Hofstra University and the West Babylon train station.



March 5, 2003

Graybar lengthens its reach in lighting industry with online directory

Graybar has selected Lightsearch.com to provide online directory services across the St. Louis-based distributor’s branches nationwide for manufacturers of various lighting products. The site’s online database contains products from 7,000 companies that provide lighting fixtures, lamps, and ballasts.

Visitors to the site can find information on lighting services, specifications, price quotes, and recommended manufacturers. The coupling comes 18 months after the site was enhanced to meet electrical distributors’ demands.



March 5, 2003

Power Measurement looks to distributed generation with recent acquisition

Power Measurement recently announced its acquisition of the distributed generation and power-monitoring division of D.L. Steiner, Inc., an Ohio-based engineering service business.

Scott Henneberry, Power Measurement’s vice president of business development, says the transfer of assets and personnel will enhance the company’s services offerings, and he is particularly excited about the addition of several of D.L. Steiner’s engineers, including Mark Feasel, Marvin Foster, Phillip Lawrence, Craig Osterhage, and Rob Schmersal.

“We’re very pleased to welcome these industry experts to the company,” Henneberry says. “Together they bring over 50 years of practical experience to the company.”



March 3, 2003

California puts stock in the future of distributed generation

In an ongoing search for methods to prevent more rolling blackouts like those experienced by state energy users in 2001, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recently adopted a plan to encourage the use of distributed generation for commercial and residential customers. Reducing demand on the existing grid has been a top priority since power shortages caused by deregulation in 2000 and 2001 threatened the reliability of the state’s power supply.

The CPUC's policies cover ownership and operation of distributed generation and integrating plants into utility plans and grid operations.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has backed the plan, with Chairman Pat Wood endorsing distributed generation as part of the agency’s proposed standard market design rules to connect and streamline the nation’s regional power grids.

The CPUC also approved $55.4 million in upgrades to San Diego Gas & Electric Co.’s electric transmission system to reduce congestion on the Southern California grid and improve access for future power supplies from new generating stations in Mexico.



March 3, 2003

Cooper Bussmann chosen to implement electrical safety program for Ford

By the end of the month, Ford Motor Co. will have installed more than 100,000 current limiting fuses at its facilities in North America as part of a program to enhance worker safety around electrical equipment. The car manufacturer tapped St. Louis-based Cooper Bussmann for the order of devices.

The project, which will require work at more than 45 locations in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, will also include a short circuit current study, arc flash hazard analysis, affixing safety labels to equipment, and providing safety training and personal protective equipment to workers.