Union laborers push for local workers for proposed solar project

·2 min read

Oct. 21—OAKLAND — Union laborers pushed Monday for the use of local contractors should a proposed 175-megawatt solar power facility be approved on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County.

The Maryland Public Service Commission held the last of two virtual public hearings for the proposed project, which Competitive Power Ventures hopes to build on about 1,170 acres of land once used for strip mining in Kitzmiller.

Shana Banard, a construction worker and labor union member of 13 years, expressed concerns with the potential environmental impact should CPV use specialized contractors rather than local laborers.

She pointed to a situation in Campbell County, Virginia, where residents have filed complaints that construction crews have damaged roadways near the Altavista solar farm, which is being constructed by DEPCOM Power, an Arizona-based construction and engineering company.

James Housel, an Allegany County resident and member of the Local 616 Laborers Union, asked the commission to approve the project only if the developer agreed to a reporting requirement in hiring local union laborers, and proposed some form of 50/50 split in workers.

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant and we should not allow the promises of jobs to go to out-of-state residents," he said.

Representatives from CPV Backbone Solar and Maryland's Department of Natural Resources spoke about the progress the facility is making toward construction.

The permitting process began in March 2020. Felicia Bellows, CPV's vice president of renewable development, said the company hopes to begin construction early next year and complete the project by September 2023.

The project, which would be located at 5187 Kitzmiller Road in Kitzmiller, would result in the placement of more than 406,000 solar panels. It should take about 14 to 18 months to construct and generate up to 200 jobs, Bellows said, adding the facility is expected to reduce emissions equivalent to that of 50,000 average cars taken off the road.

"That's going to translate into an investment of approximately $200 million," she said.

The two certificates and permits the company needs to obtain are the Maryland Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity through the Public Service Commission, which it submitted an application for April 21; and the Garrett County Grading, Timbering, Building E&S through the county. They anticipate hearing back on both on Thursday.

"On Oct. 13, we did submit the secretary a letter recommending approval of the project with conditions," said Bob Sadzinski, who was on the call at the behest of the Power Plant Research Program with the Department of Natural Resources.

An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25 and the there should be a status update from the parties involved Thursday, said Public Utility Law Judge Jennifer Grace, who is presiding over the case.

Brandon Glass is a staff writer for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @Bglass13.

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