Mike Solida, of Charles J. Merlo Inc. in Mineral Point, operates machinery to improve the access lane off Frankstown Road for construction of a new solar farm in Portage and Summerhill townships on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

By Randy Griffith

PORTAGE – Excavation work has begun on the Portage Township site where one of the state’s largest solar power generation facilities will be constructed.

Competitive Power Ventures announced that the Maple Hill Solar 100-megawatt solar farm is being constructed with additional support from Gemma Power Systems.

The solar farm, located on some 700 acres at a former coal mine off Frankstown Road, will feature an array of solar panels manufactured by Talesun – each with the capacity to produce more than 530 watts of electricity.

It is expected to begin operation in May 2022.

“CPV is pleased to move forward with the Maple Hill Solar project, which will contribute to the modernization of our electricity generation supply and improve its sustainability,” Sean Finnerty, company executive vice president, said in a press release. “We are grateful to partner with the Township of Portage and Cambria County as we lead the competitive power industry toward clean, efficient and renewable generation, without compromising reliability.”

CPV also operates a natural gas-powered generation facility in Jackson Township.

The $1 billion CPV Fairview plant opened in December 2019. Although it burns carbon-based natural gas, the company says its efficiency also helps reduce emissions from coal-burning plants.

The company says Maple Hill will offset more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions that would be produced by older fossil fuel plants, which is the same as removing 21,000 cars from the road.

Solar power can moderate electricity prices year-round, but especially during high-priced summer months, the press release noted.

“We are delighted to join the project, which is putting a former coal land to a clean energy utility, and to see that the superior quality of Talesun products alongside our experienced services are recognized,” Talesun North America President Yabin Xing said.

Construction is expected to create about 250 jobs.

“The news that CPV is putting another project into construction is a strong step for our economy and our environment,” said state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township. “We’re not only proud to have the Maple Hill project sited within Cambria County, but also pleased to be putting former coal land to further good use – generating jobs, tax revenue and clean energy for the region.”

Portage Township Supervisor Chairman Ben Selapack said finding new uses for former coal mining property benefits the community and the environment.

“Through our partnership with CPV and the development of the Maple Hill Solar facility, Portage Township is leading the way towards a clean, efficient, renewable energy future,” Selapack said.

When the solar project was first proposed in February 2020, the company said it would provide 150 megawatts of power and cover about 1,200 acres in Portage and Summerhill townships. This week’s announcement provided no explanation for the change.

In 2020, CPV Development Director Ed Cherian said the developers were not concerned with Cambria County’s reputation for cloudy weather.

“With advances in technology, solar panels have gotten very efficient,” Cherian said. “There are a lot of areas not known for sunny days where solar power is now possible.”