Although manufacturers, distributors and reps are struggling to squeeze nickels and dimes out of the still-slumping electrical construction market, some market niches are slowly but surely coming to life.

Take the utility construction market. Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for upgrades to the U.S. power grid and the expansion of Smart Grid projects is starting to trickle into the market. According to several news reports and a white paper published by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Washington, D.C., several massive projects that will connect utility-grade wind farms and photovoltaic power plants to the power grid are cutting through the final miles of bureaucratic red tape, will soon break ground, and will start providing power to homes and business in the next few years.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), said construction of Duke Power's $400 million Top of the World WindPower Project near Glenrock, Wyo., is now underway and will use 110 wind turbines from GE Energy and Siemens. A report posted at www.billingsgazette.com said the wind farm would supply 200MW of power — enough for 50,000 to 60,000 homes.

The EEI report, “Transmission Projects at a Glance,” is must-reading for anyone interested in the status of the expansion of the U.S. electrical grid, ARRA funding for Smart Grid projects and the connection of renewable resources to existing power lines. It's available for free at www.eei.org. According to EEI, the projects covered in the report “represent the addition or upgrade of nearly 12,900 circuit miles of transmission with an accompanying transmission investment cost of approximately $37 billion dollars.”

An example of one of these projects is the Green Power Express, which when completed in 2014 will transmit power from wind farms in North Dakota and Iowa to population centers of the Midwest and further east. It's massive in scale and will cost up to $12 billion and consists of approximately 3,000 miles of power lines.