Editor's Log: Issues And Opportunities

January 2014, Vol. 69 No. 1

The national electric grid – or lack thereof – has gotten much attention the last several years as major storms and black-outs have exposed the weaknesses both in the actual electric infrastructure and the system in place to provide uninterruptable electric power. Several states have initiated conversations and encouragement to place the power grid underground. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a new acting chairperson in Cheryl LaFleur, and it has become apparent that the electric power grid and generation market is high on her list of priorities. Regardless, the electric grid will continue to receive a lot of attention and potentially construction activity in the coming years.
Sewer and water prospects are more complicated. Economic recovery for public works varies heavily from city to city, state to state. It’s a given, at least for the time being, that the days of big Federal monies are gone. When money is available, neglected city streets, roads and parks tend to take precedent over failed sewer/water systems.

Increasing or removal of the private activity bond cap could make additional monies available to municipalities. However, as several city leaders have pointed out, it doesn’t matter where the money comes from if you can’t afford the payments. Still, new construction market prospects continue to develop and work their way to reality – just at a slower pace than other markets.

There is a silver lining in the sewer/water market as well. Rehabilitation activities in many markets are thriving and showing overall solid growth. Interest in rehab methods is reaching an all-time high. Cities who have stuck with traditional methods of repair and replacing sewer and water pipes are now open to a more focused and often cost-effective trenchless rehabilitation approach to their problems. Sewer and water systems must continue to function and rehab has proven to be a reliable and economic alternative when larger full-replacement projects are too expensive at the moment.

There has been enough economic growth in sewer/water in an increasing number of states to warrant some optimism that a turn-around is in progress. Bottom line, there are signs of life for many cities and thus, signs of life for industry.