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January 10, 2003

Construction in Michigan rocks or reels, depending on your whereabouts

'Democracy is not a spectator sport,' new Gov. Granholm declares at inauguration

Four more years at GDBTC for Devlin, Hamilton

A home addition that breaks the mold

GOP controls a not-so-worker-friendly legislative agenda

NEWS BRIEFS

 

Construction in Michigan rocks or reels, depending on your whereabouts

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

Location, location, location.

Right now, where you live in Michigan goes a long way toward determining whether you're employed in the building trades. Our annual - and admittedly informal - survey of construction activity in the building trades around our state finds a varying degree of work opportunities depending on the location.

Some areas are hosting Hardhat travelers by the busloads, while other areas can't come close to employing their own residents.

Following is a synopsis of construction activity around Michigan, beginning with one of the hotbeds, Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County:

"We've had a string of years where we've done extremely well," said Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 190 Business Manager Ron House. "And 2003 looks to be another excellent year."

With the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and a good business climate that has placed a host of high-tech and low-tech companies in their backyard, the Washtenaw County building trades are riding high.

Ongoing projects like the University of Michigan Bio-Medical Research Building, new construction at Washtenaw Community College, and planned projects like a new headquarters for Johnson Controls and a new U-M cardiac research facility are putting most local building trades union workers - as well as a few travelers - to work.

"This is our tenth year or so of good employment," House said. "I don't think some of our members realize how blessed we have been."

Battle Creek area: As good as things are in Washtenaw County, it's not a good time for work in Cereal City. There is currently 40 percent unemployment at IBEW Local 445, "and except for some school work, there isn't much in the job pipeline," said 445's Business Manager, Steve Franklin.

He said small- and medium size jobs are employing the bulk of Local 445 members who are working. Franklin said he is urging contractors to be more aggressive about bidding for work in the periphery of their jurisdiction - such as the renovation of an opera house in Coldwater.

Detroit/Southeastern Michigan.

"In 2003 construction activity will be down slightly for the first six months of the year and then, start rebounding later in the year and into 2004."

That was the forecast of Barton Malow Vice President Douglas Maibach and 2003 Chairman of the Associated General Contractors, Greater Detroit Chapter, speaking at the 2003 Economic Club of Detroit outlook luncheon held Dec. 9.

"In 2002," Maibach said, "construction in the region continued at a somewhat healthy pace, but hours worked by the building trades, and the number of new projects started, were down from 2001. In fact, like much of the economy, construction in regional Detroit stalled, due to the cancellation of some projects, and the delay in the start of others."

The construction industry, he said, was hit hard by the cautious approach taken by the major automotive, Tier One and other manufacturers in committing to new construction projects. He said today "we are seeing renewed interest" on the part of owners to build new structures and renovate existing ones in response to customer demands.

Maibach said "this in no way suggests a return to the recent construction boom years," but the construction economy for the region appears to be on a "steady" course with "plenty of optimism for the future."

The optimism is created by projects that have recently been announced or are in the works, including a new Federal Reserve Bank building in Detroit's Eastern Market; renovation of the Book-Cadillac Hotel, the Fort-Shelby Hotel and possibly the old Statler-Hilton Hotel; hotel construction associated with the Detroit's three casinos; a new North Terminal for Metro Airport and other expansion/reconstruction work; the Metro World Center on 550 acres near Metro Airport; renovation of the Rouge facility in Dearborn; a $2 billion mixed use development at Telegraph and Square Lake and a $500 million mixed-use development in St. Clair Shores.

Anticipated activity in Southeast Michigan, Maibach said, "is pointing towards a much-anticipated rebound."

Flint. "We're in the doldrums," said Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 370 Business Manager Mark Johnson. "Work hasn't been this bad in years, and there isn't much on the horizon."

Some school construction will put some building trades workers to work in the next few months, but there are no immediate plans for work from General Motors facilities, and there's little else to speak of outside of plans for a new Flint Journal newspaper building downtown. The outlook is grim in Flint - and in most areas of the country, Johnson said.

"We can thank our illustrious president for that," he said. "I heard of a business manager in Arkansas who called 128 locals around the country, looking to see if anyone needed travelers. There was no work out there. Nothing."

Grand Rapids/Muskegon. "I'm afraid 2002 didn't get off to a very good start, and things got worse as the year went on," said Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 174 Assistant Business Manager Kirk Stevenson. "The way it looks now, 2003 doesn't look to be much better."

Normally, more than 100 Local 174 members are kept busy working in area manufacturing plants - but that number has been reduced to a handful because of the economy. Big employers like Steelcase and Amway have been in no frame of mind to pay for facility maintenance, upgrades and renovations.

"The manufacturing plants are usually good, steady employers for us," Stevenson said. "But they've been laying off their own people, and they're booting out our guys, too."

School work will keep some union trades employed, as will a new downtown Grand Rapids convention center, a new building for the Grand Rapids Press, and some hospital work. And a number of members are working on traveler at the new power plant under construction in nearby Covert.

Kalamazoo/Battle Creek and points west. More than 1,000 construction workers are toiling on the Covert Generating Plant, a new 1,170-megawatt, combined-cycle, natural gas-fired power plant being built near Lake Michigan by PG & E National Energy Group.

The largest construction project in the state is saving the bacon of Hardhats from across Michigan and the county, for whom there is no other work available. The project is also putting to work hundreds of travelers.

"I'm glad we have such a large project in our jurisdiction that can help our sister locals," said IBEW Local 131 agent/organizer Mark Szekely. "We've had calls from locals all across the country trying to put their people to work. We're fortunate to have such a big job going on at this time. I know it's bad out there."

There are another six to eight months of work on the Covert project. After that, Szekely said there's a good chance that a casino project in Wayland will be getting into gear. Combined with a planned new high school in Lawton, other school work, and ongoing maintenance and upgrade work at the Pharmacia plant in Portage, "in terms of employment for our local, I think we'll be pretty well set in 2003," Szekely said. "But how many mouths we'll be able to feed outside the family remains to be seen."

Lansing. "Around here, 2002 was above average for most of the trades, but not as good as the year before, which was a record-breaking year," said Laborers Local 998 Business Manager Dale Brzezinski. "I anticipate that except for short periods, we will have full employment in 2003."

Brzenski said there are 4-5 "good-size projects" planned in the area. Unfortunately, some are state-sponsored, and may be on the chopping block as the state tries to get its finances in order. In the private sector, G.M. is planning a new plant at the Delta site, a $35 million school project is planned for East Lansing, Sparrow Hospital is expanding, and a tech center at Lansing Community College is coming out of the ground.

"The state construction work would be a real help," Brzezinski said. "But from one day to the next, you don't know if a project is a go or if it's been cancelled."

Saginaw/Bay City/Midland and points north and west.

"Horrible."

That's the employment and work outlook assessment from new Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85 Business Manager Kris Shangle.

The Karn-Weadock plant in Essexville is employing a number of members, and work on a new G.M. engine foundry in Saginaw is expected to start in the springtime. Local 85 also has a number of travelers working at the Covert project.

"Beyond that there's a lot of what-if's and could-be's," Shangle said, adding that nearly a quarter of Local 85's 1,100 members are on the bench. "We're coming off a year that was not good at all, and 2003 is looking to be, quite honestly, horrible."

Traverse City. "2002 was pretty skinny, we have our share of unemployment," said IBEW 498 Business Manager Bernie Mailloux. "As for 2003, about the best I can say is that I'm not seeing a lot on the horizon in the Dodge reports."

Between 50 and 60 of the 311 active Local 498 members are currently out of work, Mailloux said. Those who are working have been helping to build the new Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, building a peaker plant in Kalkaska, and performing ongoing work at the Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey.

"The bidding for contracts is fierce here," Mailloux said. "The nonunion has a pretty good toe-hold, and they try to beat us every chance they get."

Upper Peninsula. The mid-to-late 1990s were boom years for construction in the U.P. When the corner turned on the new Millenium, the bottom began to fall out.

"I wouldn't say 2002 was a terrible year, but work was much slower than it was in the past several years," said Tony Retaskie, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Labor-Management Council. "I'm looking for 2003 to be slightly better than 2002."

There are "some jobs in the hopper," Retaskie said, including a border crossing station in Sault Ste. Marie, upgrading the Soo Locks, a new casino in Marquette, and some renovation work at Northern Michigan University.

Other ongoing projects or jobs that are due to start are a Home Depot addition in Iron Mountain, a new Wal Mart in Marquette, work at Lake Superior State University and Bay College in Escanaba, renovation work at Marquette General Hospital and Portage Hospital, and the installation of pollution control equipment at the Presque Ile Power Plant.

"We have some small and medium-size jobs going on, and we should see some improvement in the commercial sector," Retaski said. "We have a lot of people traveling, but a lot of people just don't have anywhere to go. There's no question we have slid a bit when it comes to employment."

Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 506 Business Manager Bob McCutcheon said his local is experiencing 25-30 percent unemployment, with members working in Wisconsin, Minnesota and downstate. "We're looking for a little better year next year," he said.

AN EIGHT-INCH ammonia pipe is welded at the Covert Generating Plant last summer by fitter Joe Foster of UA Local 85. The new power plant, being constructed south of South Haven by PG & E National Energy Group, has put to work thousands of building trades workers from western Michigan and from around the state.

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'Democracy is not a spectator sport,' new Gov. Granholm declares at inauguration

LANSING - With remarks that echoed her election themes of inclusiveness, family and fiscal responsibility, Gov. Jennifer Granholm took the oath of office on Jan. 1.

"Citizenship in a democracy is not a spectator sport, particularly in times as tough as these," Granholm said. "Understand, I am prepared to make the tough decisions, yet the house stands strong when the family thinks, talks, argues, resolves and works together."

Granholm, the state's 47th governor, delivered her address at the Lansing Center before the largest inaugural crowd ever assembled in Lansing.

Despite a looming budget deficit of $1.5 billion, Granholm pledged not to turn her back on campaign promises to help seniors with prescription drug prices, to get more money for laid off workers and to improve education for children.

In a nod to the inaugural speech of President John F. Kennedy, she issued a challenge to Michiganians, "Ask not what power will do for you, ask what you will do with your power to impact our world. I invite you to participate in the bending of history in some purposeful way."

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Four more years at GDBTC for Devlin, Hamilton

Leadership at the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council (GDBTC) will remain unchanged for the next four years, as Patrick Devlin (Secretary-Treasurer) and John Hamilton (President) were re-elected without opposition to new four-year terms. This is the second term for both officers.

"I appreciate the confidence of the delegates," said Devlin, who hails from Sprinkler Fitters Local 704. "We have a good team in place and we have a lot on our agenda. I look forward to the challenges that are ahead of us."

In existence since 1937, the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council administers project agreements with construction contractors and contracts with some employers, acts as a liaison with the business and political communities, publishes The Building Tradesman newspaper and promotes unionized construction for the 14 international building trades unions it represents. Delegates of local unions affiliated with the GDBTC cast ballots in the election every four years for the top two officers

Under the GDBTC bylaws, the full-time secretary-treasurer position administers the day-to-day operations of the council. Hamilton's position of council president is part-time. He serves full-time as President of Operating Engineers Local 324.

"My thanks to the delegates for their support, and I'll continue to work hard for the building trades in the next four years," Hamilton said.

THE OATH OF OFFICE for Greater Detroit Building Trades Council officers is taken by Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin (center) and President John Hamilton (right). Administering the oath is election chairman Bob Chwalek, business manager of Laborers Local 1076.

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A home addition that breaks the mold

By Marty Mulcahy
Editor

The wide world of the building trades isn't all about building roads and bridges and digging ditches and erecting buildings.

Sometimes, when you go off the beaten track, you will find building trades workers employed doing the darndest things.

A case in point are Russell Plastering employees Chris Richardson of Local 67, Robert Breen of Laborers Local 334 and two finish carpenters, John Shiels and Jack Strobl of Wally Kosorski Co. Some have been at a private residence every workday for up to two years, transforming the cozy confines of the home's 5,500-square-foot addition into a showcase for the remarkably creative whims of the homeowners.

"Coming to work is a lot of fun; I love it," Richardson said. "The owners have a real appreciation for old-world traditions, and they value good craftsmanship. My only disappointment is that once we leave, the rest of the world isn't going to be able to see what we're doing here."

We can show a small sampling. The 50-ish owners, who have two grown children, asked us not to disclose their names or the location of their Michigan home. But the lady of the house was more than happy to show off the addition and explain their vision for the space inside.

She said the original home on the site was built in 1849, and several additions were made every few decades to bring it up to its current 6,000 square-foot configuration. The family has lived in the house for 22 years, and not long after they moved in, "we started planning for the addition, and for about 15 years, we talked about what we wanted to do." Ground was broken on the addition about four-and-a-half years ago.

"We're 56 months into the project, and we have no idea how much longer it will take," she added. "The work can be tedious and mind-numbing, and it doesn't happen overnight. The work is a marriage of carpentry and plaster, and the guys we have working for us are pretty amazing."

Two separate architects were originally employed to draw up plans. One died, and the owners parted ways with the other. So the owners took on the duties of planning the finish aspects, working with their own whims and sense of style, the trusted input from the craftsmen they employ and the use of pattern books and picture pages taken from magazines. The budget for the project is unknown, but it's apparent that the homeowners are willing to pay to have the job done to their specifications.

The interior of the addition, which includes a basement, has been broken up into a number of relatively small rooms, each with a theme and interesting artifacts:

  • The largest room is an early Georgian style paneled library (c. 1735), with the sections removed from Brixworth Hall in Britain after World War II. The woodwork sections were painstakingly reassembled at this house using skimpy re-assembly plans, and even old photos of knots in the wood to provide clues showing what panel goes where.
  • There is a "late Regency" period room (c. 1820), with an intricate plaster "guilloche," a continuous spiral pattern embedded in the ceiling by Richardson. The room also has a fireplace owned by naturalist Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin's grandfather).
  • Plaster crown molding is the main feature of another small room that acts as more of a hallway. Inspired by work done in the Gardner-Pingreee house in Salem, Massachusetts, the molding symbolizes free-standing waves, and a plaster rope running behind the waves was cast from the mold of a real rope.
  • Plaster columns modeled after an actual 19th century British cannon used in the War of 1812, complete with King George III's royal crest, stand at attention in one of the basement rooms.
  • A room on the lower level, which the lady of the house called the "piece-de-resistance" showcasing Richardson's talents, is a "Mughal/Indian" display. It contains a "flattened onion-shaped dome" with a circular light cove made of plaster cobra heads, supported by stylized elephant-head brackets. The plaster work is truly incredible.

The lower floor is almost entirely for display purposes, including a collection of "militaria" of the British Empire, Anglo-Indian furniture and a room devoted to a Star Wars collection that will look like the inside of a space ship.

Plans can change quickly, Richardson said, but the homeowners always work with the craftspeople to see if what they want is possible or practical. For example, on one occasion, the homeowners took Richardson on a road trip to see the design of an oriental rug, which they wanted incorporated into a plaster design in their home.

"This is a fascinating project," said Richardson, who has trekked to the house every day for the last two years, and figures to be around for another three months. "It's a catalogue of everything that can be done in plastering. It's like a movie set, and I'm helping the homeowners make their dream come alive." Richardson is a master plasterer who was trained in England and has worked on plaster pieces in movies like The Empire Strikes Back, Moonraker and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In Michigan, he supervised the plaster work on the renovation of the Michigan State Capitol Building and the Detroit Opera House.

"It's great to work here," said laborer Breen. "I do the prep work for Chris, mix mud, build scaffolding and do the clean up. The work that's been done here is incredible."

The addition to the home could hardly be described as kid-friendly, with opportunities for gouging plaster or breaking off molding literally around every corner. That prospect doesn't bother the lady of the house. "If there's damage, we'll just have Chris back out to fix it," she said.

Plasterers Steve Badanjek and Jack McCool have also worked on the house.

"We have a small crew, and they're very bright and highly skilled and every one of them is at the top of their trade," the lady of the house said. "I know on most projects the idea is to get the job done and get out of there. But this is a different way of thinking. You can't rush perfection."

IF YOU HAD THE TIME, the money and access to the talent of Chris Richardson of Plasterers Local 67 and Russell Plastering, you too could have all your plastering whims and dreams come to life. That's the case with the owners of a Michigan home, who are currently employing Richardson and a handful of other craftsmen full-time to perform the finish work on a most unusual addition. Here Richardson finishes what the homeowner calls his finest work, a dome in the ceiling ringed with plaster cobra heads supported by stylized elephant-head brackets. The lattice work on the wall and wall inlays are plaster, too.


Robert Breen of Laborers Local 334 prepares plaster and tends for plasterer Chris Richardson. "I love working around this ornamental stuff," he said.

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GOP controls a not-so-worker-friendly legislative agenda

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Comp time for overtime. Vouchers. More tax cuts for the rich.

Another attack on Davis-Bacon.

Those are just a few of the issues labor legislative representatives expect to battle in the Republican-controlled 108th Congress, which opened Jan. 7.

"What we face in the coming years may be far more than we ever faced before," AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney warned in December about the legislative plans of labor's foes. "It will be fueled by enormous amounts of money and power."

With the complete Republican takeover on Capitol Hill, fueled by almost $1 billion in corporate campaign contributions, "it's payback time from the Bush administration" for its business friends, AFSCME Legislative Director Chuck Loveless told PAI.

That payback will be in anti-worker legislative initiatives both wide-ranging and industry-specific, the interviews reveal. "There are people out there who want to do bad things" to workers, the Laborers' Don Kaniewski said.

The representatives offer three ways to stop the anti-worker agenda, but concede they might not always work:

  • Grass-roots lobbying by unionists and their allies.
  • Senate filibusters. Even GOP Senate aides admit the new Republican majority there will need 60 votes to accomplish anything, since 41 votes can keep a filibuster going. The Republicans hold 51 seats, to 48 Democrats and independent James Jeffords of Vermont.
  • Point out the political hazards and hope the White House will try to moderate its supporters' fanatic impulses as GOP President George W. Bush plans his re-election campaign.

"Maybe it's the optimist in me, but I think they'll be sensitive" to the damaging potential of extremist legislation, says AFT Legislative Director Charlotte Fraas. "And anti-worker initiatives fall into that category. The question is how much the White House will have an eye on the prize of '04 and moderate how much the Republicans go off the deep end," she added.

"A lot of what the White House will be doing will be through the prism of (election year) 2004, but it remains to be seen" if Fraas is right, Kaniewski cautions.

Workers must battle other legislation, with the comp time bill atop the list. The Republican comp time legislation would allow employers to schedule substitute compensatory time for workers in place of overtime - but the employer would have the final say on when comp time would be scheduled, and workers could lose the ability to get overtime pay. "The comp-time-for-overtime bill will pass the House and will be difficult to stop in the Senate," Loveless says. "The only way is a successful filibuster."

But even if that works, Roofers Legislative Director Regis Maher points out that time spent battling it and big business brainstorms "will prevent us from doing anything" positive. As Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger said: "We'll probably see enough egregious proposals to keep us back on our heels."

The legislative representatives agree the economy will override everything, as will the battle over GOP-big business plans to deal with it by putting more money in management pockets. The impact filters down to local workers: Bush's tax cuts and the recession leave states and cities strapped for cash.

The result: layoffs. With states facing a projected $80 billion deficit combined in 2003, and no help from Washington, AFSCME's Loveless predicts the impact will in cuts in education, transportation, social services - and workers' jobs.

Other anti-worker measures labor expects to combat include:

  • Incoming Senate Education and Labor Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) may resurrect a "flextime" bill to let employers have workers toil up to 80 hours - in any pattern - over a two-week period before paying overtime, says AFSCME's Marge Allen, who tracks labor-specific legislation. She warns Gregg may fold flextime into the comp-time-for-overtime bill.
  • Gregg plans to review alleged worker "abuses" of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which grants workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for birth, illness, or to care for sick children or elderly family members. The business community generally hates the FMLA.
  • Health insurance. Federal commissions shined a spotlight on the rising millions of uninsured, and co-pays and premiums for the insured are skyrocketing. The Fire Fighters, the Teachers and AFSCME all told PAI health care will be a key issue for unionists - but they expect little aid for workers from Congress.
  • Bush's plan to make his $1.6 trillion tax cut for the rich permanent. The cuts are scheduled to take effect between now and 2010, but expire in 2011. Bush, citing the recession that began virtually the day he was seated, wants to remove that deadline. Business wants to add its own tax-cut goodies to the Bush economic stimulus package, the legislative reps say. "Corporate dividends would be exempt from taxation, which would be an enormous boon for wealthy investors while average people get nothing," Loveless comments. Same story for tax cuts for quick business purchases of new plants and equipment, and for 401(k), Enron-type account contributions, he adds.
  • Expect another attack on Davis-Bacon, the 1931 law that guarantees prevailing wages on federally funded construction projects, Kaniewski predicts. But he notes the building trades have pieced together bipartisan coalitions to defeat past Davis-Bacon attacks and expects to do so again.
  • Phony versions of pro-worker legislation. AFT's Fraas forecasts the health insurer-backed phony Patients Bill of Rights - passed last year by the GOP-run House but killed by the then-Democratic Senate - will go through.

Same thing with a leaky prescription-drug benefit bill for the elderly, which Bush is expected to demand. In 2002, drug lobbyists wrote the legislation for the House GOP, and then the firms pumped millions of dollars into GOP campaigns, touting it.

"They'll get it through because it'll be too complicated to make the distinctions" to the public "between a bill where the benefits are run by Medicare, and a drug company bill," Fraas explained. Her two predicted results show the power the GOP can wield just by controlling - and framing - the congressional agenda.

(From Press Associates)

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NEWS BRIEFS

Trades get 2 wins in PLA decisions
As time ran out on the year 2002, two building trades councils scored major victories in the fight to uphold project labor agreements (PLAs) on public works projects.

The most recent came on Dec. 27, when the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 1999 Ohio law that prohibited public authorities from using PLAs on public works projects in the state.

A month earlier, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a PLA entered between Polk County and the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council did not violate the state's competitive bidding and right-to-work laws. The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department assisted on both efforts.

"We are hopeful that our recent victories on this critical issue bode well for other pending cases and for protecting the rights of all building trades workers," said Building Trades Department President Edward Sullivan.

PLAs are vital to the employment of unionized building trades workers. Projects worth billions of dollars have been performed under PLAs in Michigan alone in recent years, and any court precedents that could ban their use would be most unwelcome.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a PLA case brought by the building trades. The building trades went to the high court to appeal a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which upheld President Bush's Executive Order banning PLAs on federally funded projects.

Internet-ready electrical wiring?
There is another potential source of broadband Internet connection besides cable television, satellite and phone lines - and your home or business is already set up for it.

The Engineering News Record reports that several systems designed to piggyback high-speed data transmissions over electrical lines are in field trials around the nation. Some utility customers in Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York are able to surf the web with Internet connections that plug into any wall outlet.

Computer users can already purchase networking systems that utilize wiring in a home or business, and the Internet connection is based on the same theory. The Internet is available at a fiber-optic node within a mile or two of the end user, and data is converted through a processor and routed over existing medium- and low voltage lines for "last mile" distribution to customers.

Further spread of such Internet connectivity would depend on more widespread use of the fiber-optic system.

"The actual technology itself, I am not concerned with. I'm pretty sure it's going to work. But we still have to understand the business and cost model," Lief Ericson, business development manager for Southern Telecom, Atlanta told the ENR.

"The opportunity could be significant if the vendors really pull the technology to a stage where the utilities feel comfortable deploying it. There are very few competitors in the last mile arena, just regional Bells and cable companies. This is a third wire into the house."

Electric utilities are intrigued because such a system would leverage lines already installed and would open up new control and communication potential for utility uses, such as remote meter reading and household and commercial energy management.

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