VINCO – Snow white clouds were rising from Competitive Power Ventures' approximately $1 billion natural gas plant Tuesday – a move that was years in the making in Jackson Township.
The 1,050-megawatt CPV Fairview Energy Center shifted to commercial operation this week, several months ahead of early projections – a move that will enable the facility to provide electric power to more than 1 million Pennsylvania homes and businesses, CPV officials said.
And locally, that means full-time work for 23 people – and many more who'd be contracted to provide support to the facility, according to Tom Favinger, the company's vice president.
"We're excited to bring a plant with this kind of economic development potential to this part of the country," he said.
He and CPV CEO Gary Lambert said the plant is now fully operational.
The facility relies on the region's Marcellus Shale gas and raw "industrial" water from the Cambria Somerset Authority, which is used to cool components used to generate the power, company officials have said. Using a combination of two gas turbines, one steam turbine and generators, CPV officials said the plant's equipment is capable of delivering electricity to the power grid in less than 60 minutes – at a combined 60% efficiency compared to many coal plants, which run at 35%.
Favinger said the power the plant generates will go into the PJM grid, the largest independent power pool in the nation.
The plant's electric power could be sent anywhere from Illinois to New Jersey through the "extremely competitive" power pool, he said.
"As a new plant goes online ... it's usually displaces the higher cost, older ones that usually have higher air emissions," Favinger said.
Omaha-based contractor Kiewit Energy oversaw the project, along with Mineral Point-based Charles J. Merlo Construction, using General Electric gas turbines and other major equipment.
The facility has been under construction since November 2017 on a former brownfield site near Route 271 in the township.
Jackson Township officials praised the progress Wednesday.
"Jackson and the surrounding (area's) economies is growing. The county and Central Cambria School District will see significant annual revenues," Jackson Township Supervisor Bruce Baker said, thanking the company for their financial generosity and investment in the community.
Township Manager Dave Hirko said the plant also means work indirectly for dozens of "spinoff" jobs that will supply the facility – not to mention the benefit they'll bring relying on area businesses for lunch orders, fuel and other services.
"We welcome that," he said.
Like many in the community, township resident Gary Wentz said he wasn't sure what to expect from the plant.
"Now that it's running ... it's weird, because as big as it is, you almost forget it's there," said Wentz, who lives on Gillen Lane – one of the closest neighborhoods to the plant. "And that's the way you want it to be."
"Depending on the time of day, there's a steady muffled audible sound if you listen for it ... but it's not disruptive at all," he added.
Hirko said the township received a few complaints about the project during the water line project and construction phase – "it's hard to limit construction noise," he added – but CPV and its contractors worked to address them person-to-person.
He said his office hasn't had a single complaint since the facility shifted to full operation earlier this week.Favinger said the company intends to have its facility operating in Cambria County for decades – so it's important to forge bonds here."We're happy to be in this community," he said. "And we want to develop relationships here and maintain them."
Local lawmakers said the facility's benefits could pay dividends locally.
"When companies are willing to invest over $1 billion in our communities, it demonstrates that Pennsylvania is open for business," state Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr, R-Richland, said.
State Rep. Frank Burns agreed.
"For too long, our region has been left behind while larger cities reap the benefits of economic development," he said. "This project is a key example of why Cambria County is a good place for business."
Windfall for Jackson
The facility will become a revenue engine for Jackson Township in 2020.
Through a "host payment" agreed upon by the company, $500,000 in funds will be donated to the community annually through the life of the plant – a fee that would grow incrementally each year, Hirko said.
By comparison, Jackson Township's entire tax base – both residential and business taxpayers contribute just $151,000 combined per year, he said.
"With the township landfill fees (revenue) declining so much in recent years, that'll help significantly," Hirko said.
But the annual allocation won't go into the township's general fund.
As agreed upon, it'll go into an account managed by the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies for the township to spend on community benefits, Hirko said.
That might mean upgrades to township parks, the senior center or the purchase of a new police vehicle, for example, he added.
It could also enable the township to ramp up its annual summer road paving – something that's already been discussed, Hirko said.
"That's a big expense each year – and some of our roads certainly need it," he said.
A three-member committee that includes Hirko, one township supervisor and one CPV official would meet to discuss community priorities and make recommendations each year, Hirko said.