PORTAGE – Construction of the region’s first solar energy facility could begin later this year on about 1,200 acres in Portage and Summerhill townships, Competitive Power Ventures of Braintree, Massachusetts, announced Monday.

The $200 million Maple Hill solar project would create 150 megawatts of electricity.

That would apparently make it the largest solar farm in the state.

An August 2019 report by the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission listed electric power suppliers by county, capacity and generation system. The largest of 28 solar power farms was Carbon County’s 10 megawatt Panther Creek facility.

In a press release, CPV said Maple Hill’s development is linked to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s support for new infrastructure investment, including renewable development, and safeguards the competitiveness of the markets.

“With advances in technology, solar panels have gotten very efficient,” CPV Development Director Ed Cherian said in a telephone interview. “This particular site was a coal strip mine. It makes it a great location for a facility like this.”

All of the land has been timbered in recent years.

The efficiency overcomes Cambria County’s reputation for cloudy weather, he said.

“There are a lot of areas not known for sunny days where solar power is now possible,” Cherian said.

Maple Hill’s contribution to the electric power grid will reduce operation of some older carbon-fueled plants that would create 150,000 tons of carbon monoxide emissions, the press release said.

The project will employ 150-200 workers at peak construction and will bring significant tax benefits to Cambria County and the host townships, the company said.

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

“CPV’s mission of modernizing U.S. power generation means we are making significant investments in renewables and highly efficient, flexible natural gas generation to create the electric grid of the future,” Sean Finnerty, executive vice president, said in the press release. “I’m proud of the wide scope of CPV’s efforts and the progress we are charting in the power generation sector to reduce emissions while maintaining grid reliability.

“Maple Hill exemplifies our commitment to providing safe, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally-responsible power and will have a significant positive impact on the Pennsylvania energy sector.”

Although the company press release said construction could begin late this year, Cherian said early 2021 is a better bet. CPV is working with state, county and local government on construction permits and other approvals. Representatives attended the Portage Township supervisors’ meeting on Wednesday.

“As a leader who makes job creation and business investment top priorities, I enthusiastically welcomed CPV’s $1 billion investment that created Fairview Energy Center in Jackson Township,” State Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor, said in the press release. “The continued partnership between good government and private investment is bringing further good news to Cambria County, in the form of the Maple Hill project.”

Cherian said solar energy has less negative impact than other sources, including wind.

“A solar project is not visible from a distance,” he said. “There is no sound except for the substation.”

He predicts more solar facilities will be coming to Pennsylvania and other areas because of new collection and generating technology, as well as government support.

Cherian is not alone.

Carl Jackson, director of utility-scale solar initiatives at Penn State University, is coordinating with Lightsource BP, a London-based solar company planning-70 megawatt project to supply part of the main campus power beginning later this year. That’s double the capacity of the biggest solar project currently operating in the state.

“Over the next couple of years, the Lightsource BP project will probably be on the smaller end,” Jackson told the Philadelphia Inquirer last August.

“Pennsylvania has a tremendous amount of farmland, the cost (of solar)has come down, and the state has taken some initiatives to promote solar.”

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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