The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 months ago

Utility workers and service providers continue to power Alabama

(Alabama NewsCenter)

Vast amounts of normal services have been interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the situation evolves and uncertainty remains, one thing that Alabamians can count on is for the lights to come on when they flip the switch.

With many in our state working remotely, children engaging in virtual learning or caring for loved ones at home, it is imperative for the energy service they depend on to work. Additionally, it is critical that power is provided for the necessary services we are counting on to protect the safety and well-being of all Alabamians. This includes ensuring power is safely delivered to hospitals – rural and urban alike – that are providing care for those in need.

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Utility companies have a long history of working to ensure the safety and comfort of the people of Alabama during times of crisis. Now, more than ever, energy providers are committed to maintaining reliable, safe and affordable power to businesses and individuals across the state.

Utility services are critical, essential services. The member and affiliate companies of the Energy Institute of Alabama (EIA) are proud to serve uninterrupted power during these uncertain times, especially to those in the medical field who are on the front lines battling this disease, as well as those most severely economically impacted. We are grateful to the heroic health care workers and to those who ensure power arrives at its final destination. There are selfless linemen, power plant workers, and support personnel who are working day-in and day-out to power our homes, our hospitals and our economy.

We can all take comfort knowing that our infrastructure is secure and that the state’s power providers share in a corporate responsibility to the communities in which they exist.

The member groups of EIA are willing to go above and beyond now and in the future. Our utility industry has always been willing to answer the call during times of devastation and uncertainty from hurricanes to tornadoes and everything in between. The COVID-19 response is no different.

Alabama Power has pledged $1 million from the company’s Foundation to community organizations and workforce efforts to combat COVID-19. Alabama Power has also partnered with the University of Alabama system, including the UAB School of Engineering and UA’s Alabama Productivity Center, to make medical face shields to help protect front line health care workers.

In north Alabama, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is providing $1 billion of credit support for local power companies as well as donating facemasks to healthcare facilities.

Additionally, local electric coops are providing Wi-Fi hotspots for students in their communities to continue learning through the use of technology. The EIA members groups know that increased connectivity is vitally important for the 21st-century world that we live in, especially in light of COVID-19’s impact on the remote workforce and virtual learning. Ensuring internet for all, especially in the rural parts of our state, will continue to be a major priority for EIA.

The crews and field representatives of EIA member groups are practicing safe social distancing and the companies have sought the public’s help to maintain safe social distances that allow employees to safely continue to serve customers, including during the around-the-clock work to restore power across Alabama following the Easter Sunday storms.

We are proud to stand with Governor Ivey, Lt. Governor Ainsworth Attorney General Steve Marshall and all our state leaders during this time. Our member utility companies in Alabama are continuing in their unwavering commitment to the people of this state. While this time is unprecedented and challenging for us all, utilities will continue to be the cornerstone that strengthens, and powers, our state

Seth Hammett is chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama and vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy. Hammett spent 32 years in the Alabama House of Representatives, including 12 years as Speaker of the House. Visit https://energyinstituteal.org/ for more information.

7 months ago

Seth Hammett: Comparing peaches to peaches

(Energy Institute of Alabama/Contributed)

I love an analogy – especially when it’s flawed.

A recent opinion column on solar energy in the Montgomery Advertiser leads with an analogy so full of holes that it resembles Swiss cheese. It claims that the reasonable fee charged by Alabama Power to rooftop solar customers, who also want power from the utility, is like the government charging you a tax on fruit you grow in your own backyard. If you have a backyard – whether you grow fruit or not – you do pay a tax in the form of property tax, and that tax provides the infrastructure and services to support your backyard and your neighbors’ backyards.

So, let’s use this analogy: If you don’t pay your taxes, it’s like picking a peach from your neighbor’s tree without permission. Your neighbor pays for police and fire protection, roads, schools and other essential services while you benefit from the same services for free. It’s not free. The same is true for rooftop solar users who want all the benefits of utility-provided electricity when they can’t generate their own. Unless they pay their share of the infrastructure costs to provide that electricity – just as every other residential customer does – they are relying on their neighbors to provide it for them.

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Another statement in the column claims that every Alabamian can generate energy cheaper and cleaner by installing solar panels on their roofs. That is simply untrue because there is an important word omitted and that word is “some.” Alabamians can generate some energy through solar and it can be somewhat cheaper and somewhat cleaner. The reality is that solar power is generated only when the sun shines and that is when most Alabamians are not at home using power. During peak demand times – morning and evenings – there is usually insufficient sunlight to meet energy demands.

The author of the column falsely states that fees for rooftop solar customers punish those who want to provide their own power. In fact, without solar customers paying their fair share of the cost to provide power – a cost that every other utility customer pays – it is non-solar customers who would be punished by covering those costs for non-paying solar customers.

There are other disputable facts in the column and all are aimed at swaying the vote of the Public Service Commission. The Energy Institute of Alabama was created to promote reliable, affordable and clean energy. As part of that mission, we strive to bring clarity and balance to such one-sided, misleading information.

For the foreseeable future, solar will be a form of energy generation that can be used by some Alabamians to provide some of their energy needs. But, solar is not likely to be cheaper with or without grid fees. There will continue to be a large demand for traditional energy generation through a mix of natural gas, hydroelectric, coal, nuclear, and solar. Most solar customers will need to rely upon traditional energy generation to meet their everyday needs. Providing that reliable, affordable, and clean energy comes at a cost to everyone – including those who use solar.

Let’s sum it up by agreeing with the author’s plea in the column’s title: Give Alabamians the freedom of solar choice. The choice is there and always has been. But with choice comes financial responsibility and the financial responsibility for having access to power generated by the local utility company should rest with the customer who needs power – not their neighbors.

Seth Hammett is Chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama.

9 months ago

Protecting Alabama rivers and protecting your pocketbook

(Energy Institute of Alabama/Contributed)

More than once in my life I’ve been reminded there is no such thing as a free lunch. I first learned that lesson from my parents and you probably did, too. Everything has a cost to someone. Whether you’re handing money to a cashier directly or paying a higher utility rate because of government regulations, you will pay. That’s never been truer than in the current push to force the removal of coal ash from one location to another in Alabama.

Coal ash is an energy byproduct produced by burning coal to generate electricity. In Alabama, the use of coal-fired electricity generation is decreasing, but for many years it was the primary source of fuel for our power plants. Over the years, coal ash has either been reused or disposed of according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and individual state permits, which comply with EPA regulations. In Alabama, coal ash is reused to produce the concrete used to build our roads, bridges, sidewalks and in building materials such as wallboard and concrete blocks. One type of coal ash benefits agriculture as a soil additive used in growing turf grass, peanuts, cotton and vegetables.

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Unusable coal ash is stored in specific landfills and waste storage ponds that are permitted under state rules and subject to monitoring and inspection by both electricity producers and the state. All coal ash storage ponds in Alabama have monitoring wells that allow regular sampling of water quality in nearby rivers and streams.

Since 2008, the EPA has been assessing coal ash deposits. In Alabama, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), following the lead of the EPA, recently enacted rules leading the producers of coal ash to discontinue disposal in storage ponds and to remediate and cap the existing ponds to prevent any potential groundwater contamination. PowerSouth has submitted to ADEM its plan for closing its Lowman Plant coal ash storage pond in accordance with the rules that have been established.

Capping storage ponds, following extensive remediation of the water contained in them, is both environmentally and economically sound. Remember the same people who are responsible for treating and closing coal ash ponds are your neighbors. They drink the same water and enjoy boating, fishing and wildlife just like you. Your interest in a clean environment is also their interest.

Now, some environmental extremists are lobbying lawmakers and ADEM to require a more costly plan that would force the excavation of our coal ash ponds and removal of the material to a lined landfill. There are a couple of serious issues with going that route.

For one, this option is more dangerous. The number of trucks and time it will take to transport coal ash to a lined landfill is astronomical. I question if the few people advocating for removal have asked residents in local communities how they feel about the dangers associated with thousands of 18-wheelers passing through their community for years. Also, undoubtedly that kind of heavy traffic will have a significant negative impact on the road infrastructure in these areas as well.

This movement of coal ash from Point A to Point B is substantially more expensive – with numbers ending in the billions. That’s the difference between a country club lunch and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Both accomplish the goal of nourishment but at significantly different costs – and for this lunch, our members’ customers would have to pay the tab.

Seth Hammett is a native of Covington County, Ala., and serves as Chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama. He is also Vice President of Business Development for PowerSouth Energy and was a member of the Alabama House of Representatives for 32 years, including 12 years as Speaker of the House. Upon his retirement from the Alabama Legislature in 2010, Hammett was named Speaker Emeritus. A graduate of Auburn University, Hammett earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration. He holds honorary doctorates from Troy University and the University of West Alabama.

1 year ago

Recent bills to bring rural broadband, business growth to Alabama

(Energy Institute of Alabama/Contributed)

For more than 40 years, I have dedicated my life to advancing the economic interests of Alabama. I’ve spent time in the state legislature as a representative of my hometown district and was honored to be selected speaker of the House for Alabama. I served the governor as the director of what is now the Alabama Department of Commerce, which exists to help boost the state’s economy. I currently act as chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama as well as vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy. In that time, we have seen Alabama businesses show impressive growth. This year alone, we are at record levels of unemployment.

A lack of high-speed broadband internet access in some of Alabama’s most rural areas persists in holding our state back. It’s a simple fact in today’s interconnected economy that, if one doesn’t have access to the internet, their business is more likely to fail. This lack of reliable internet access keeps businesses from investing in our state due to fears of being stranded on the information superhighway. For companies, particularly, high-tech companies, to invest in rural Alabama, we simply must be able to provide consistent broadband access at sufficient minimum speeds and capacity.

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It should also be noted that weak internet connections and speeds can hinder everyday life in general. Every email, text message and digital alert depends on consistent internet in order to keep you and your loved ones updated. Students rely on the internet to receive and send their assignments. All are impacted by poor or nonexistent internet access.

So, I am proud to voice my praise and gratitude for the legislature’s passage of House Bills 400 and 540 and Senate Bill 90. These bills support the expansion of broadband internet systems to the parts of Alabama that need it most. According to the governor, 276,000 Alabamians lived in areas without any internet providers available last year. These new bills will improve situations like these that are simply inexcusable in today’s connected world.

Thanks to state representative Randall Shedd’s (R-Fairview) leadership, HB 400’s passage allows electric providers to install, operate and maintain broadband systems within their easements, the areas of property used by utility companies. These rights enable electric providers, or their affiliated or third-party providers, to more quickly and cost-effectively expand and improve broadband infrastructure to make quality internet access in rural Alabama a reality.

One of the greatest champions in the Alabama legislature for rural broadband access and expansion, Senator Clay Scofield (R-Arab), sponsored SB 90, which makes it easier to secure grants for these projects. It increases the minimum broadband speeds to 25 megabytes per second for downloads and 3 megabytes per second for uploads. It focuses on unserved and rural areas and improves the framework of broadband systems. While HB 400 allows the physical renovation of Alabama’s internet, SB 90 will make sure that these renovations are increased and accelerated.

Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) sponsored HB 540, also known as the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act. Among other things, it provides significant incentives for the state’s broadband and connectivity efforts by allowing rural fiber projects to be eligible for 15 years of an investment tax credit. This allows recovery of 22.5% of capital investments in rural counties, use of the Growing Alabama economic development site preparation program for fiber projects at industrial parks, inland ports, and intermodal facilities, as well as provisions for broadband projects in federal Opportunity Zones. HB 540 will give businesses another reason to settle in areas that benefit from HB 400 and SB 90’s improvements.

The passing of these bills was greatly influenced by the dedicated members of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition. This group includes representatives of multiple industries, ranging from agriculture to business to healthcare to education (K-12 and post-secondary). Influential entities such as the Business Council of Alabama, ALFA, the Energy Institute of Alabama and many others all joined in the effort. Clearly, these bills were approved with a wide range of popular support and I commend these individuals for their steadfastness in pushing for the betterment of our state. All of this will help bring Alabama into a modern economy while also providing internet access and its benefits for all Alabama citizens.

I have spent a great deal of my life making sure businesses in our state have the best chance to succeed. However, for a long time, weak or non-existent internet access was simply accepted as a fact of life for Alabamians living in rural areas. The people of Alabama and the legislature have finally said enough is enough. HB 400, HB 540, and SB 90 will usher in a new era for business in Alabama. Again, I want to thank Gov. Kay Ivey, Sen. Clay Scofield, Rep. Randall Shedd, and Rep. Bill Poole for helping spearhead this great achievement. I also have to recognize the leadership of Sen. Steve Livingston, Sen. Del Marsh, Sen. Greg Reed and Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter. Please take a moment to call your representative and thank them for their part in passing these bills. I know from personal experience that they appreciate hearing from you.

Seth Hammett is chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama and vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy. Hammett spent 32 years in the Alabama House of Representatives, including 12 years as Speaker of the House. Visit https://energyinstituteal.org/ for more information.