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.

1 month 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.

6 months 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.