Saturday, December 16, 2017

Infrastructure News


Missouri DOT Explores Solar Roads

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Maps of U.S. Infrastructure

The Washington Post has an online article that includes six informative maps about U.S. infrastructure. We encourage readers to check it out.

Missouri Gets F for Road Safety

That National Safety Council gave Missouri an F for road safety in its recent State of Safety: A State-by-State Report. Missouri’s low score is a result of the lack of laws relating to child passenger protection, texting while driving, seat belts and other transportation safety issues.

The state received and overall grade of F and was ranked lowest in the country (ranked 51st out of all states and the District of Columbia and ranked 49th for road safety) . In addition to road safety, the report considers safety issues in workplaces, homes and communities. You can find the Missouri scorecard here, as well as NSC’s scoring methodology.

Missouri Still Contender for Hyperloop

We previously noted that a Kansas City to St. Louis route was entered into a competition for Hyperloop One as it considers routes for a high-speed, tube magnetic levitation system. Apparently the 240 mile route across Missouri to connect the two Midwestern metropolises is still in the running. You can find more here.

Here is a link to another articles on a potential hyperloop in Missouri:

Missouri Transportation Improvements Stalled

The Columbia Missourian recent published an evaluation of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ campaign promise to improve state transportation infrastructure. Though the governor recommended supplemental appropriations for the transportation agency in his fiscal year 2018 budget, he has not proposed new or increased funding sources and generally has opposed increased taxes. Recent bills in the state General Assembly that would increase fuel taxes have also failed to pass.

Here are some additional articles on Missouri’s transportation funding.

Texting Lanes Coming to Miami

Apparently it is hard for some people to put down their cellular phones and pay attention to something else. The Miami Dade Express Authority has decided it is easier to change the roads than change behavior. It is planning to install to install bumpers on one lane of a highway and designate it for texting use.

Infrastructure Watch usually passes on thing like this without comment, but this seems like a bad idea. It may keep texters from wandering into other lanes, but it seem like they can still get into a lot of other troubles. In addition, it does nothing to address texting while driving in other lanes or on other roads. IW believes there is a role for technology in addressing this issue and that we have to be realistic about human behavior, but on the whole this does not seem like a very expensive way to address just a small part of the problem.

For all of you texters who won’t be driving Florida’s bumpered, baby lanes: STOP IT!

At any rate, you can read more about this here.

Incidentally, Florida got a F for road safety in the NSC State of Safety report, where it ranked 44th. It’s overall grade was a D, with a rank of 40th. You can see the Florida scorecard here.

Philadelphia Unearths Wooden Water Pipe

Recently a construction crew digging in Philadelphia came across segments of wooden water pipe that were probably installed in 1812. Fortunately, Philadelphia is not still using these pipes. When they were installed, they would have carried water from the Schuylkill River that was pumped up by steam engine.  You can read more about it here.

The Poop Engineer: Wastewater Blog

IW welcomes another engineering and environment blog to the web, The Poop Engineer. IW is not associated with The Poop Engineer, though the author worked at the same company for a while. Good luck, Andy.

Water Weirdness

Apparently some UK utilities uses dowsing rods to find water pipes.  IW does not recommend this, but it’s interesting that people cling to it. Here are links to articles on the practice.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

America Needs Infrastructure

The United States has a huge infrastructure for transportation, energy and water.  It is expensive to keep it in good shape to, not to mention upgrading it to meet new demands.  Below is a list of links to recent posts and articles on the subject of our degrading infrastructure and what it will cost to fix it.

Energy, Transportation, Water & Missouri News

U.S. Military Agency Seeks to Protect Grid

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has announced plans to develop systems for the protection of critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks. You can find out more in this article or the DARPA Web site. If you’d like to find out more about the vulnerabilities of the U.S. electric grid, you may be interested in Lights Out by Ted Koppel.

Could You Pay to Name a Missouri Road?

A bill introduced into the Missouri House of Representatives, HB 728, would allow the state Highways and Transportation Commission to sell naming rights to roads and bridges. You can find more about the bill here.

Hyperloop Considers Missouri

Missouri is one of the semifinalists for consideration for the construction of a Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation system that could go from Kansas City to St. Louis in 23 minutes. The Missouri Department of Transportation conceives of it as part of a reconstructed Interstate 70 corridor—the segment of I-70 that crosses Missouri is considered the first completed portion of the interstate system. You can find more about this proposal, about which there remain many questions, here or here.

Missouri Bill: Move Over for Utility Vehicles

A bill recently passed in the Missouri House, HB 85, that would require drivers to pull over or slow down when driving by a utility vehicle that is flashing lights. A similar requirement exists for emergency response vehicles such as fire and police. The bill will move on to the Senate. You can find more here.

Missouri and Illinois Rivers Could be Part of Trump Infrastructure Plan

Though President Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan is not final, locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers could make the list. Seven locks, five on the Upper Mississippi River and two on the Illinois River, aid barge transportation to Chicago and Minneapolis. A proposal to improve the seven locks and undertake related stream and habitat restoration projects was taken up by Congress in 2007, but never received an appropriation. If the project is supported by the Trump administration, it is not certain that the president would support the environmental aspect of the program, which would likely undermine the support it has received from major environmental groups. You can read more about this here.

Trump Order Could Roll Back Federal Regulation of Streams

President Trump issued an executive order that lead to rescinding the 2015 Clean Water Rule. It is not clear what rule may replace it, but some suspect it will limit or eliminate federal regulation of intermittent streams.

The 2015 rule, promulgated under the administration of President Barrack Obama, clarified federal jurisdiction over certain waters. Opponents sued claiming that the rule actually extended federal jurisdiction. A federal court ordered federal agencies to not implement while it considered the case.

You can find more about this issue here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Energy, Transportation & Missouri News

Buyer of TVA Nuclear Plant Plans to Run It

We previously posted that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was auctioning an unfinished nuclear power plant near Hollywood, Alabama. The buyer, Nuclear Development LLC, announced its intention to complete the plant and put it into operation.

Before this can be done, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must transfer the operating license from TVA to Nuclear Development. In addition, Nuclear Development must complete financing arrangements.

Nuclear Development bid $111 million for the plant. In addition to two nuclear reactors and supporting facilities, the property includes 1,600 acres of land.

Canada, Finland Plan to Phase Out Coal

Canadian officials announced plans to phase out coal-powered electric generation by 2030. They hope the country will be 90 percent powered by sustainable sources by that time.

Findland also proposes to phase out coal by 2030. The country plans to be carbon-neutral by 2050.

Bill Would Make Sale of Municipal Utilities Easier

A bill filed in the Missouri General Assembly (HB 247), would lower the threshold of voter approval needed for a municipality to sell a utility. If passed, it would lower the requirement from a five-seventh majority to a simple majority. The Missouri House Local Government Committee has taken up the bill.

Bill Would Transfer Some Missouri Roads from State to Counties

Two bills in the Missouri Senate (SB 38 and SJR 3), propose pathway for the transfer of responsibility for certain road, letter routes, from the state to counties. About two-thirds of the current state funds for maintaining these roads will be distributed to counties, the remainder remaining with the state for other transportation needs.

County officials are opposed to the measure, saying it will shift much of the state’s burden for road maintenance to even more cash-strapped counties. These routes were maintained by counties until 1952, when the state took them over as part of a road improvement program.

A similar proposal failed to pass in the 2016 session. SJR 3 also includes a provision for raising fuel taxes. You can find out more about these bills here.

Noisy Electric Cars

New rules will require electric cars traveling slower than 19 miles per hour to produce a sound. This is to prevent accidents involving pedestrians who can’t hear the very quiet electric motors operating in these vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Administration anticipates this measure will prevent 2,400 injuries to pedestrians annually. New electric and hybrid cars must comply with the rule by September 2019.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Infrastructure News (Mostly Missouri)

Safety Valves Required on Gas Connections

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which governs gas pipeline safety through its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, issue rules that require safety valves to be installed on all new or replacement gas service lines for apartments and small businesses. Excess flow valves automatically shut off the flow of gas when a line is ruptured, limiting the amount of gas that can escape, which will prevent or reduce the severity of fires.

Such valves have been required for new and replacement connections for single-family residences since 2009. The rule does not require existing connections to be retrofitted with the valve.

Tennessee Valley Authority Puts Unfinished Nuclear Plant on the Market

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is offering for sale its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant. TVA began construction of the plant, located near the northeast Alabama town of Hollywood, in the 1970s, but never completed it because regional power demand did not grow as anticipated.

TVA has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for the plant and 1,600 acres of land along the Tennessee River. This is fraction of the $5 billion the authority has spent on the project. In addition to the unfinished nuclear reactors, the property includes power transmission lines, roads, and several buildings.

TVA cites economic development as a reason for the sale. It hopes industry will be attracted to the developed site and provide employment in the region.

Wind Farm to Start Operation in Missouri

Next Era Energy Resources is anticipating completing construction of a wind farm in rural DeKalb County, MO, in November. The facility will have 97 turbines and be capable of generating 200 MW. Kansas City Power and Light will purchase the energy. Find out more in this article from the St. Joseph News-Press.


Engineering Educators Elect First Black Woman President

The American Society for Engineering Education elected Bevlee Watfort as its president. She is the first black woman to hold the office. Her term will begin in June 2017. Watford is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.

Missouri Testing Solar Sidewalk at Rest Stop

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) announced it will install sidewalk made of solar panels at its Route 66 Welcome Center. The sidewalk will cover a 12-foot by 20-foot area at the rest stop on Interstate 44 near Conway, MO.

The panels will be supplied by Solar Roadways of Sandpoint, ID. The solar panels and electronics are sandwiched between to ½-inch thick layers of tempered glass. MoDOT will test the materials for durability under various weather conditions. It will also test the suitability of the panel’s built-in LEDs as substitutes for road striping.

MoDOT does not expect to sell power from solar projects. It envisions that solar roadways may generate enough power to supply rest areas. The power generated by this project will be directed to the welcome center building.

Bill to Change Missouri Water Commission Overcomes Veto

The Missouri General Assembly overturned a veto by Governor Jay Nixon of a bill that could change the composition of the Missouri Clean Water Commission. The bill would change the composition of the commission, allowing agriculture and mining interests to have a larger representation. The commission has authority over rulemaking under the state clean water law. You can read more about this here.

Oklahoma Shuts Down Waste Wells in Light of Earthquake Threat

The September 3rd earthquake on a newly discovered fault near Pawnee, Oklahoma, has prompted state and federal officials to halt injection of oil and gas wastewater into 67 wells in the area. There is a growing scientific consensus that wastewater injection has contributed to recent earthquakes in the Oklahoma.

Wastewater produced from oil and gas extraction is disposed of by injecting it deep into the ground. Reducing the amount of wastewater that can be injects also reduces the amount of oil or gas that can be collected. The wastewater cannot readily be disposed of by other means.

The magnitude 5.8 quake was felt in neighboring states (Facebook friends of this contributor reported feeling it in St. Louis and the Missouri Bootheel). The U.S. Geologic Survey reports that it was felt as far away as Nevada and Florida.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Energy & Transportation News

Missouri Municipal Electric Utilities, Governor Support Power Line Project

Earlier this year, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) rejected a proposal for a power line that would carry electricity generated at wind farms in Kansas to the grid in Indiana. The PSC’s decision was based, in part, on the fact that no Missouri customers would use the line or the energy it carried.

Clean Line Energy, which proposed the project, has been looking to overcome this object. It has brokered a deal with the Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission (MJMEUC), which represents a pool of municipal utilities that pool resources to by power. MJMEUC has 67 municipal utility member and 35 are expected to take part in the deal if it is approved.

In addition, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has expressed his support for the transmission line. In his statement, Nixon emphasized the energy savings and jobs that would be created the $500 million construction project.

The line must be approved by the Missouri PSC. It is likely to be opposed by affected landowners who campaigned against the original proposal. Official in Kansas, Illinois and Indiana have already approved the project.

What Are the Advantages of Microgrids?

This is the second in a series of posts on microgrids. See the previous post for a description of what is a microgrid.

Microgrids have several potential benefits. These include
-backup energy supply and improved reliability,
-environmental benefits,
-exploitation of local and alterative resources,
-increased energy efficiency and reduced energy consumption, and
-reduced cost.

Backup Energy Supply and Improved Reliability
Because microgrids can operate independently of the larger grid, they may be able to continue to operate when there is an outage elsewhere on the main grid.

Environmental Benefits
Microgrids are not inherently less polluting than large grids, but they may afford opportunities to manage energy resources in manners that may reduce pollution. Microgrids may be more easily able to exploit variable or small renewable sources including solar and wind energy. These smaller power supplies may also be able to address local peaks and reduce the need to ramp up production at larger, and potentially more polluting, power plants.

Exploit Local and Alternative Resources
Sometimes local energy resources are available that are not suitable for use on a large grid because they are not sufficiently powerful or reliable. Solar energy, an alternative energy source that is variable and relative low power, is an example of a resource that may be more easily exploited by a microgrid.

Reduced Cost
Microgrids might be managed in a manner to reduce costs. For instance, when prices are high during periods of peak demand, a microgrid might switch to a local power supply that is less expensive. This will also reduce the peak on the larger grid, meaning larger power plants do not have to ramp up production as much or be built to address large peaks.

If you’re interested in finding out more about microgrids, here are some resources to get you started.

60 Years of Interstate Highways

President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 on June 29 of that year. Though previous legislation had authorized interstate highways, it was under this act and the Eisenhower administration that our interstate system began in earnest.

Interstates have proven to be a safe way to travel (the fatality rate on interstates is less the rate on other routes).

Even so, the roads are showing signs of aging. Many sections are in poor condition and many bridges are structurally deficient.

Keeping up with the maintenance needs of the interstate system is an enormous task. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the backlog if needed improvements totals $189 billion.

Relate Posts and Articles

Missouri Legislature Fails to Act on Transportation Tax

Though a bill passed in the Missouri Senate, the state’s General Assembly did not act on a proposed fuel tax increase before closing its session in May. You can read more about this issue here.


Blogger Considers Career Change

That doesn’t mean I’ll quit blogging. I’ve never made a living (or even a dime) from blogging, and it has always taken a back seat to other things. By day, I’m an employee of a state that pays the lowest wages of any state (even our legislators are starting to complain about it). Maybe I should cross the river and go back to school where I can learn to be a brewmaster, or possibly a vintner. As I recall, looking through the fog of a couple of decades, I did reasonably well in my undergraduate food processing class, so maybe I can build on that.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Energy & Water Roundup

Consumer Group Opposes Missouri Energy Rate Reform Bill

The Midwest Energy Consumer Group (MECG) has come out in opposition of HB2689 (and its parallel in the Missouri Senate, SB1028), which would make significant changes to the way electric rates are regulated in the Missouri. The group claims that the bill would remove the voice of customers from the electric rate setting process and pave the way for regular, uncontested rate increases. The Office of Public Counsel, which officially represents customers in Missouri utility rate cases, expressed concern that the bill might limit the ability of the agency, as well as the state’s Public Service Commission, to review rate increases.

Related Posts

Senate Passes Energy Bill

The U.S. Senate passed its first major energy bill in a decade. The bill emphasizes development of alternative energy, natural gas, and lesser used sources such as geothermal and hydropower. It also focuses on energy efficiency and safety. The bill will need to be reconciled with the energy bill passed in the House of Representatives, which differs significantly, particularly in its approach to fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). Senate leaders are confident they can work out differences with the House and develop a compromise bill that can pass both chambers latter this year.

What Is a Microgrid?

I’m seeing a lot about microgrids in utility publications and on the Internet. I thought it might be worthwhile to write something that could serve as an introduction to the subject for those who are unfamiliar with it, as well as educate myself in the process. I intend this to be the first in a series of short posts on the subject.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a microgrid?

A microgrid is a local energy grid that can disconnect from the larger grid and operate independently. It connects to the main grid at a location where the voltage of the two systems can be maintained at the same level. A switching system can manually or automatically switch the connection on or off.

Though the name “microgrid” implies something small, size is not a defining point. Microgrids are defined by
-local control, and
-functioning both connected to and disconnected from the main grid.

If you’re interested in finding out more about microgrids, here are some resources to get you started.

A Little Sewer History

The Guardian posted an article on the Great Stink of 1858 and how it prompted officials in London to improve the city’s overwhelmed system of handling storm water and wastewater. The Thames of that time was a stinking mess of sewage and a hazard to health. The sewer system devised by Joseph Bazalgette was a marvel of the age (and much of it is still in use) that moved wastewater discharges away from the populated areas around London.

You can read this very good article here. If it whets your appetite to find out more about this project, you may also want to read Dreams of Iron and Steel by Debora Cadbury. The Great Stink by Clare Clark is a fictional thriller set during this time that partly takes place in the changing sewers of London.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Energy, Transportation & Water News

Bill Would Change Electric Ratemaking in Missouri

State Rep. Rocky Miller, who represents parts of Camden and Miller Counties near Osage Beach, introduced the 21st Century Grid Modernization and Security Act (HB2816). The bill would substantially change the state’s method of regulating electric utility rates. The method is modeled on processes in Illinois and would allow annual adjustments to electric rates.

Another portion of the bill substantially changes provision related to special electric rates for aluminum smelters. This is largely driven by Noranda, which operates smelter in New Madrid. It seems unlikely that lower or more flexible electric rates will save the company from plummeting aluminum prices.

With the exception of Noranda, large electricity users in Missouri have generally come out against the proposal. Some companies that have expressed opposition to the bill are Purina, Bayer, Ford, General Motors and Procter & Gamble. You can read more about this topic here.

Poop to Power Project Coming to North Carolina

Duke Energy has contracted with Carbon Cycle Energy for the construction and operation of a facility to process animal waste to produce methane gas for fuel. Waste will come from area pig and chicken farms. The gas will be piped to Duke plants as fuel in electric power generation.

North Carolina is the second largest pork producing state in the U.S. Duke is a major electric power producer, particularly in the Carolinas. Carbon Cycle is based in Colorado.

Barrel Bob Found

Barrel Bob, a character that serves as spokesman for worksite safety for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), was found in Columbia on April 1 (no fooling) after he was stolen from his roadside station at highway construction site in Jefferson City on March 19.   The statue, constructed from used orange and reflective white barrels and cones, was previously set on fire by vandals at this location.

This statue was one of seven Barrel Bobs. Each of MoDOT’s districts has one. Bob was scheduled to make appearances at events to promote highway worksite safety beginning April 11, so the agency had resorted to building a new statue before Bob was found. You can find out more here, here and here.

Missourians Could Vote on Fuel Tax Increase

A bill (SB623) is making its way through the Missouri Senate that could increase the state fuel tax from 17 cents per gallon to 22.9 cents per gallon. The tax, if implemented, is expected to bring in $240 million annually. The bill would place a referendum on the November ballot, meaning it would have to be approved directly by voters. Before getting that far, it must complete its path through the General Assembly. The Senate is expected to pass the bill in its final vote in the first full week of April. Afterward it will be considered by the state House of Representatives, where it is not expected to be warmly received. You can read more about this here, here and here.

Significant funding for Missouri roads comes from the federal government (which has its own funding issues). MoDOT is preparing to use cash reserves to match federal grants for transportation projects (more here).

Name a Missouri Highway

An alternative to increased fuel taxes could be the auctioning of naming rights for highways. There is no estimate of how much revenue it could raise, but I’ll go out on a limb to say not enough to persuade the General Assembly to this bill. You can read the bill here. I have the impression the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who covered this story must have chuckled as he typed.

Antibiotic Resistance Found in Bacteria Downstream of Wastewater Discharge

Researchers studying the biofilm in a Spanish river found antibiotic resistance genes. These genes occurred as far as 1 km (0.6 mile) downstream from the of a wastewater treatment plant. The genes provide resistance to some antibiotics commonly used in hospitals. You can find more here. In response to the issue of pharmaceutical pollution, some chemists are considering biodegradable drugs.