The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 11, 2011


By The Building Tradesman

New hurdle for Wolverine plant

LANSING – A new challenge is continuing to delay construction of a new $1 billion, 600-megawatt coal-burning power plant proposed for Rogers City.

Proposed by Wolverine Power, the new plant would steadily employ an average of about 1,500 construction workers during a five-year construction period, according to the utility’s spokesman, Ken Bradstreet.

In a brief presentation before the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council’s Legislative Conference on March 1, Bradstreet said a recent court ruling and a new attitude by new Snyder Administration have cleared the way for the plant’s construction on the state level. Earlier this year a circuit court judge upheld Wolverine Power’s argument that the state, under the Granholm Administration, overstepped its authority in denying a permit for the plant – the state’s Department of Environmental Quality basically said the plant was unnecessary.

“Now things have flipped,” Bradstreet said. “We don’t see a problem at the state level, but now we have a big hurdle on the federal level.” That hurdle went into place at the beginning of this year, Bradstreet said, when new rules were enacted that make it more difficult to construct fossil-fuel-burning plants in order to restrict global warming gases.

He said with pressure on the federal EPA, those regulations may be loosened, allowing construction of the Rogers City plant to move forward. “I can’t tell you how much more optimistic we are (about building the plant) than we were a year ago,” Bradstreet said.

Construction hits 10-year low

Construction spending slumped 0.7 percent from $798 billion in December to $792 billion in January, the lowest seasonally adjusted annual rate since July 2000, the Associated General Contractors of America reported on March 1, in an analysis of new Census Bureau data.

AGC officials noted that nearly every private nonresidential category plunged, offsetting pickups in some residential and public nonresidential segments. They added that since January 2010, U.S. construction spending has declined by 5.9 percent.

“These discouraging figures show that millions of construction workers and their firms are still suffering from the economic downturn, despite a year and a half of growth in the overall economy,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Other than an uptick in the construction of truck terminals and railroad facilities, private sector demand for construction remains extremely low.”

Simonson noted that private nonresidential construction sank 6.9 percent from December and 13.2 percent from January 2010 levels. He added that the figures for public construction were more positive, up 0.1 percent for the month and 2.9 percent for the year, largely thanks to ongoing federal spending for stimulus. He warned, however, that much of this temporary work would dry up later this year. As a result, Simonson predicted that public construction spending was likely to decline in 2012, if not sooner.