On March 17, CPV announced a new, $200 million solar energy project called the CPV Backbone Solar project to be located on former Vindex/Arch Coal mining sites north of Kitzmiller.
Once constructed, the 175-megawatt facility will provide enough clean, emission-free electricity to power 30,000 average Maryland homes, nearly twice the number in Garrett County.
In addition to providing clean energy, the project also will be a significant contributor to the local economy through new tax revenue, increased local commerce and the creation of approximately 150 construction-related jobs.
Garrett County commissioners Paul Edwards and Jim Hinebaugh and Garrett County Economic Development’s Natural Resources Business Specialist Cheryl DeBerry joined the call to share about the projected impact this project will have on Garrett County and the region.
A presentation was given by John Hafner, project developer. He explained that CPV has been around since 1999 and was initially formed to develop natural gas.
“We’ve had 20-plus years developing high quality energy projects across the U.S. — natural gas, wind energy and solar,” he said. “Within Maryland, we’ve had a lot of success in the past.”
Hafner noted that the area is mountainous terrain that was formerly a coal mining facility.
“When we come into a community, we really want to be a large part of that community,” he said. “We want to be here as a partner for the long haul. We pride ourselves on being a good neighbor in the community.”
Hafner stated that the company’s timeline plans for the start of construction in the middle of next year, and a commercial operation date of mid-to-late 2023.
Hafner stated that the former Vindex mining area was deep mined in the 1940s and ’50s and much more recently, it was heavily surface mined.
“We’re repurposing this,” he said. “It served a great use in mining that it has seen in the past, but now that those materials have been extracted and the mine is closed out — it just closed out in February — now’s a perfect opportunity to repurpose this project and to reutilize it for the next phase of its life. We believe that this solar project is a perfect fit here. It’s heavily disturbed land, so it’s not particularly valuable from an environmental perspective, so we’re able to replace the previous coal work with a new solar facility that will continue to generate revenue for Garrett County.”
The project will be connected to the existing Potomac Edison power line.
There are only a few homes in the area, and Hafner stated that the company has talked with the owners and received a positive response.
He noted that work started a little over a year ago and has been going at a rapid pace with required studies that need to be completed.
Hafner reported that there will be long-term benefits for the Garrett County tax base, construction jobs for a 14- to 18-month period and environmental benefits that include a reduction in carbon emissions.
Around 450,000 solar panels will be installed on roughly 900 acres.
“At a time when the windmill projects are depreciating, this is a new source of revenue driven by the energy sector that can replace some of that, which is excellent,” Edwards said. “I’m glad to hear the reference back to the town of Kitzmiller.”
He noted his background in municipal government and his friendship with Kitzmiller Mayor Robert Reckart.
“We spoke after the last meeting and I know that Kitzmiller is pretty excited about this project,” he said. “If you’re not familiar with Kitzmiller at all, it’s kind of limited right now of what activity is possible down there. But this can drive some stuff to their stores and everything else, so that’s exciting for them.”
Edwards noted that solar power has become popular nationwide, and in some places, it is controversial.
“We have this project announced that there’s no controversy surrounding it at all,” he said. “I’ve spoken with a couple of people who I would say are anti-solar who actually like this project and for the reasons that were outlined in the presentation.”
Hinebaugh agreed that it’s a good project for the area.
“This is really as the crow flies not far from where the Hyperloop project is going to be,” he said. “It’s in Tucker and Grant counties. So there’s a lot happening at what’s pretty much a rather isolated area. So with the jobs from this and then the Hyperloop that’s going to be nearby, that area is I think going to see potentially a lot of growth and development over the next few years.”