Sunday, May 26, 2019

STEM students would get free tuition under Illinois bill

By Greg Hinz
Crain's Chicago Business
Facing a Democratic governor and General Assembly, a major Springfield, Illinois business group has decided to go on the offense by pushing an issue with broad bipartisan appeal: filling tens of thousands of well-paying but vacant factory jobs.
In his first major legislative initiative, new Illinois Manufacturing Association President Mark Denzler says his top legislative priority is a bill that would waive tuition and other fees (including on-campus housing) at the University of Illinois and other state colleges and universities for students studying science, technology, engineering, or math who agree to teach in a state high school for at least three years after graduation or a state institute of higher education for at least five years.
A related bill would provide a partial tax credit for educational expenses for employers who sponsor apprenticeship programs, many them high-tech manufacturers or companies with complex technologies or logistics.
Denzler says the goal of both of the bills is the same: to better fill numerous middle-class industrial jobs that are or will be vacant soon but for which the pipeline of job applicants has run pretty dry.
“With nearly 300,000 workers set to retire in the next decade, Illinois manufacturers will need to find nearly 20,000 production workers and 3000 engineering workers annually“ if those jobs are to remain in Illinois, Denzler says. And that’s on top of current vacancies.
"If you talk to people in community colleges, they’ll tell you they have plenty of classrooms available. What they lack is qualified staff,” instructors capable of teaching in the so-called STEM disciplines, he adds.
The bill passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. It is sponsored again this year by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill. Denzler say's he’s been discussing the proposal with House leaders and officials in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration and is hopeful of getting them to go along.
School labor unions have not yet signed on to the bill, but the measure comes amid the rising number of Illinois high school graduates who end up attending college out of state, with many never returning. The estimated first-year cost is about $1.5 million, Denzler says, though that figure could multiply quickly in the future if the program works.
“I know we’re going to be playing a lot of defense this year,” Denzler says, referring to the proposed graduated income-tax and an already enacted new law to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. “We wanted to offer some things that have bipartisan appeal.”

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ivory Coast, VCU form partnership to improve access to lifesaving medicines

Officials representing Virginia Commonwealth University and the government of Ivory Coast have signed an agreement to train researchers in the West African country to develop high-quality pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities. VCU and its College of Engineering is home to the Medicines for All Institute, which is dedicated to improving access to lifesaving medications for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases around the world. Under the three-year agreement, the university will help Ivorian chemists and engineers gain the necessary expertise to produce medicines in their home country.

P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., VCU vice president for research and innovation; Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the College of Engineering; and Abdallah Albert Toikeusse Mabri, M.D., the minister of higher education and scientific research of Ivory Coast, signed the agreement. “Students will come from Ivory Coast to our school and learn the techniques ... and take them back to Africa to improve the production of these drugs in a place where they really are needed,” Boyan said.

The university will also provide research and planning expertise to help the government create a new research institute on the campus of the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Ivory Coast, and consult in the development of a drug research facility. The initiative seeks to reduce global dependence on a few manufacturers while empowering countries such as Ivory Coast to be self-sufficient in providing high-quality health care to their own citizens.

Mabri says the impact of the program with VCU would ripple far beyond the nation’s borders to greater Western Africa and beyond. Patients with malaria take up half of the hospital beds in Cote D’Ivoire, he says, and HIV is also a major problem because of the high local cost of medication. “We are working together to build a better world,” he says.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Schnabel Engineering employees serve in key DBIA-MAR leadership positions

Schnabel Engineering’s commitment to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) continues, as three employees will serve in key leadership positions in the mid-Atlantic region. The DBIA Mid-Atlantic Region covers the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland, offering activities and events for those interested in learning more about design-build project delivery or advancing its use.


Recently elected as DBIA-MAR board president, Mary Anderson, F. SAME, serves as the primary liaison between the regional and chapter leadership and serves on the board of directors for the region. She represents the chapter at regional DBIA meetings and workshops, schedules and presides over meetings and events, and presents chapter issues in regional DBIA forums. Anderson, a 30-year industry veteran, senior associate, and senior vice president at Schnabel, leads business development efforts for the firm’s federal government market. Anderson has also served in numerous leadership roles with the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), including regional vice president for the Middle Atlantic Region and post president for the Northern Virginia Post.

Anderson comments, “This is an exciting time to fully engage with DBIA, as we are moving into the next era, following our 25th anniversary.  All of our construction industry market sectors are reporting growth, and all states in the Mid-Atlantic Region are touting major economic development announcements. Within the DBIA-MAR, we are fortunate to have a wealth of opportunities and examples of ‘Design-Build Done Right.’ I look forward to supporting DBIA-MAR and working with my design and construction colleagues.”

Sherry Miller, office manager to Schnabel Engineering’s Sterling, VA office since 2001, joins Mary as an executive member of the DBIA Mid-Atlantic Region’s board of directors, serving as secretary for the chapter. Miller maintains the chapter’s formal documentation, prepares and issues minutes, and maintains documentation of board and chapter meetings and other events, including approved decisions and actions. She is also responsible for coordination with the region on administrative matters affecting the chapter.

As chair of the DBIA Central Virginia Chapter Membership Committee, Muriel Rodriguez-Franqui, associate and vice president at Schnabel, works to recruit new members and retain existing members of the chapter. A key business development professional for Schnabel since 1988, Rodriguez-Franqui has held numerous leadership and committee positions with industry organizations and now brings that experience to DBIA Central Virginia. “I am very excited to help grow this multi-discipline, newly formed DBIA Central Virginia Chapter,” she says. “We are already off to a great start with programs and sponsorship opportunities for 2019.”

Newly established in 2018, DBIA’s Central Virginia Chapter provides programming, networking, and educational programs related to the fast growing design-build project delivery method and advancing its use in the Commonwealth. The Central Virginia Chapter joins the Hampton Roads and Maryland Chapters as part of the DBIA-MAR.

As an engineering and environmental firm, Schnabel Engineering provides specialized expertise for the planning, study, design, and construction of geotechnical, dam, and tunnel engineering projects in the United States and abroad. The employee-owned company has worked in more than 140 countries since its founding in 1956 and has pioneered the use of new technology, foundation systems, and sustainable infrastructure. Headquartered in Glen Allen, Virginia, Schnabel’s workforce exceeds 350 people in 19 locations.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Nine renewable energy highlights of 2018

By Jeff Deyette

Despite the Trump administration's ongoing attempts to prop up coal and undermine renewables—at FERC, EPA and through tariffs and the budget process—2018 should instead be remembered for the surge in momentum toward a clean energy economy. Here are nine storylines that caught my attention this past year and help illustrate the unstoppable advancement of renewable energy and other modern grid technologies.

1. California Goes All-In for Carbon-Free Electricity

In late August, California—the world's 5th largest economy—committed to the target of fully decarbonizing its power sector by 2045. The landmark legislation also strengthens the state's renewable portfolio standard (also known as a renewable energy standard, or RES) from 50 to 60 percent by 2030. What's more, at the bill signing, Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order that establishes a goal of achieving carbon-neutrality across all sectors of California's sprawling economy by 2045, cementing the state's place as a global leader in climate action.

2. Several States Strengthen Their RES Requirements

State-level renewable electricity standards continued to be a primary driver of new renewable energy development in 2018. In addition to California, legislatures in New Jersey (50 percent by 2030), Connecticut (40 percent by 2030) and Massachusetts (35 percent by 2030) all adopted stronger targets for renewable energy, accelerating their states' transitions away from fossil fuels. In addition, voters in Nevada overwhelmingly approved a measure to increase their state's RES to 50 percent by 2030 (the measure must be approved again in 2020 to officially become law).

3. Clean Energy Champions Win Gubernatorial Races

One of the bright spots in November's election results was the number newly elected governors who campaigned on aggressive clean energy and climate change agendas. Newly elected governors in at least 10 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin, have pledged to accelerate clean energy and carbon reductions in their states by supporting U.S. commitments to the Paris agreement, joining the U.S. Climate Alliance and/or calling for renewable energy targets of 80 to 100 percent. These election results demonstrate the widespread support for greater investments in renewable energy and signal the push for even stronger clean energy policies in the coming year.

4. Record Low Prices for Renewables

Innovation, growing economies of scale and attractive financing continued to drive the costs down for renewables in 2018. Power purchase agreements for wind and solar projects in states like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas have reportedly ranged between $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour, well below the cost of natural gas generation—and the technologies are positioned for further cost reductions to continue to be low-cost options even as federal tax incentives change. What's even more exciting is that the many of these low-priced projects also include energy storage components, increasing their value to the grid.

5. Major Utilities Commit to Low-Carbon Portfolios

Earlier this month, Xcel Energy became the first major utility to commit to a completely carbon-free electricity supply across the eight states it operates in. In doing so, it joins a growing number of utilities that are committing to phasing out their use of coal and transitioning to substantially lower carbon energy portfolios. Also this year, both Consumers Energy in Michigan and NIPSCO in northern Indiana announced plans to phase out coal generation and utility giant American Electric Power announced a goal of reducing its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. What's especially exciting about these utility actions is that they are driven primarily by economics, clearly demonstrating the competitiveness of clean energy technologies.

6. Corporate Renewable Energy Purchases Keep Growing

Low renewable energy prices continue to attract major corporations looking to save money and achieve ambitious sustainability goals. As a result, direct corporate purchases of renewable energy have become a major driver of renewable energy deployment. In 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute reports, corporate renewable energy purchases—led by companies like Facebook, Walmart, ATT and Microsoft—reached more than 6.4 gigawatts (GW). The number of corporations investing in renewables expanded at a record pace this year as well, with nearly two-thirds of Fortune 100 and nearly half of Fortune 500 companies now having set ambitious renewable energy goals.

7. Offshore Wind Moves Forward

While no new offshore wind projects came online in the U.S. this year (the next project—off the Virginia coast—is scheduled for 2020), the industry did take some big leaps toward becoming a major player in the nation's power supply. For example, the winning bid for Massachusetts' first request for offshore wind proposals to help meet the state's offshore wind requirements passed in 2016 went to an 800-megawatt project from Vineyard Wind at a shockingly low price of about 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. In addition, the latest U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management auction for leasing parcels of water for future projects resulted in 11 bidders and $405.1 million in winning bids, both smashing previous records. And strong state policies, including new offshore wind requirements in New Jersey and elsewhere, mean that there's a lot more action to come.

8. Storage Steps Into the Spotlight

Once a fringe player in the electric power sector, the energy storage industry is quickly emerging as a game changer in the transition to a clean energy economy as a tool for integrating much higher levels of renewable energy. In 2018, the pipeline for new storage projects doubled to nearly 33 GW as more utilities are investing in the technology thanks largely rapidly falling prices and growing support from state policies. While California has led the nation in storage deployment to date, New York recently established the strongest storage requirement in the country at 3,000 MW by 2030. Earlier this year, New Jersey set an ambitious storage target of 2,000 MW by 2030 and Massachusetts significantly increased its storage requirement to 1,000 megawatt-hours by 2025. At the federal level, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued Order 841, which directs regional grid operators to set market rules that allow energy storage to participate on a level playing field in the wholesale energy, capacity and ancillary services markets.

9. PG&E Turns Down the Gas With Storage and Renewables

In one particular sign of what's to come in 2019 and beyond in terms of how these technologies fit together to displace fossil fuels, one of the most exciting regulatory decisions I saw this year was the California Public Utility Commission's approval of PG&E's plan to use energy storage to replace retiring gas generators. One of the key barriers to fully transitioning to a carbon-free economy is replacing natural gas generation and the ancillary services they provide to the power grid. This decision, which marks the first time a utility will directly replace power plants with battery storage, should spur many more similar projects to move forward in California and across the country and open the door for integrating much higher levels of renewable energy onto the power grid.

These nine stories are just a sampling of what occurred in 2018 to further the clean energy transition. As the year comes to a close, UCS will continue to work hard to keep up the clean energy momentum in 2019.

Jeff Deyette is the director of state policy and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists.