Ground broken for $700 million energy center

Skip Brennan, of Schenectady, N.Y., the project manager for General Electric, takes a photo Tuesday of the grounds where the CPV Fairview Energy Center will be built in Jackson Township.

A new electric generating facility will soon begin to rise from the former brownfield site off Route 271 near Vinco.

The $700 million CPV Fairview Energy Center will generate 1,050 megawatts of electricity from turbines powered by natural gas and ethane, a liquid extracted with natural gas. 

“When this facility goes commercial in 2020, we are going 

to have enough power to power a million homes,” project developer Competitive Power Ventures President and CEO Gary Lambert said Tuesday during groundbreaking ceremonies.

“That’s a lot of homes from one small facility with a relatively small footprint here in the community.”

The location in Jackson Township was selected because of its proximity to a natural gas pipeline, high capacity electric lines and adequate water supply for turbine cooling, CPV Project Manager Mike Resca said. 

“But the main focus was on a community that would accept a big investment like this,” Resca said. “We really did find that here, all in Cambria County.”

Cooperation of local officials and neighbors of the plant was key to development, Lambert said, noting it only took three years to get through the permitting process from conception to groundbreaking. 

“It’s really mind blowing when you look at projects that we’ve done in neighboring states, which have taken, in some cases, a decade to get done,” he said. “In some cases, we are still fighting those battles as we are in construction.”

CPV Fairview is being built on a former industrial dump site and junkyard. Bruce Baker, Jackson Township supervisors’ chairman, said the cleanup was long overdue. 

“The benefit that we got from the cleanup of this site is astronomical,” Baker said. “You couldn’t imagine 200,000 tons of junk buried 25 feet deep. This is a real benefit for our community.”

Baker pointed to CPV Fairview’s financial support for Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Company, Jackson Township Festival and other community programs. The project is already paying benefits for area businesses, he added. 

“This is arguably one of the biggest events that ever happened in Cambria County – especially Jackson Township, for sure,” Baker said. 

Supervisors initially had concerns about the impact on residents, Baker admitted. But officials visited a similar power plant operated by Duke Energy. 

The relatively quiet, clean operation convinced him.

“Boy it was impressive,” Baker said. “I said, ‘I think we could live with something like this in our township.’ ”

Resca thanked the Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership for assisting the developers and opening doors as a pro-business community. 

Partnership President Mark Pasquerilla said CPV Fairview illustrates economic development at its best. 

“This power plant is a Harvard business school case study for how to get big infrastructure investments accomplished,” Pasquerilla said. “Your investment is a game-changer, bringing clean gas-powered energy to our region.”

The plant is a partnership of CPV, General Electric and Osaka Gas, Japan’s second-largest natural gas utility. Speakers Tuesday also included Eiichi Inamura, chairman of Osaka Gas, and Katy Wilner, general manager of sales for GE Power.

During his remarks, Lambert said he’s heard criticism for building another carbon-burning power plant, but noted that renewable energy sources are not as reliable or efficient as natural gas.

“The emissions from this facility, while substantial, are significantly less than the fleet of generating facilities out there,” Lambert said. “For every hour that this facility operates, some less efficient, more polluting facility will operate less. That results in less carbon, overall, emitted into the atmosphere.”

CPV operates a wind farm in Oklahoma, but it only operates 50 percent of the time, he said. 

“I don’t think any of us would be pleased if your electricity in your house was only available 50 percent of the time,” Lambert said. “A combination of renewal energy facilities with natural gas facilities like this that are flexible and reliable is what we need.

“That’s what we are focused on at CPV.”

Brownfield cleanup concluded over the summer and site preparation and leveling is currently underway, with up to 100 workers on the site each day, construction manager Jeff Ahrens said. Actual construction will begin in December and continue for about two years, creating up to 400 construction jobs.

When complete, the plant will employ about two dozen workers with a payroll of about $3 million.  

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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