OAKLAND, Md. — The Maryland Public Service Commission held the first of two public comment sessions on the proposed 175-megawatt Backbone solar facility that Competitive Power Ventures is planning to build in Garrett County.
CPV Backbone Solar, LLC, has applied for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, which is what is required for it to obtain the authority to construct the energy-generating station or high-voltage transmission line in the state.
“Our project is a 175-megawatt solar facility. It, in terms of dollar investment, translates into more than $200 million in investment into the project,” said Felicia Bellows, vice president of renewable development at CPV. “Our timeline is that we started developing the project in early 2020. We hope to start construction in the first quarter of 2022 and we then would follow up with being online in September 2023.”
The facility would be located at 5187 Kitzmiller Road in Kitzmiller on land once used for coal mining. During peak construction, up to 200 people would be employed, said Bellows. In terms of electric output, the facility could power 30,000 average Maryland homes.
There is potential for significant environmental impacts to rare, threatened and endangered species and other natural resources in specific areas on the site, which Bellows mentioned. There may also be impacts on steep slopes related to construction and stormwater management, specifically given to logging that covers about 500 acres of the site, she said; however, CPV has changed its plan accordingly to avoid the potential problem area and so far worked cooperatively with local, state and federal officials.
There was one public comment at the meeting from Victoria Leonard, the political and legislative director for the Baltimore/Washington laborers’ district council, an affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents more than 5,000 construction workers in the state who work for companies hired by utility companies.
“The modest middle class wages and benefits of utility construction workers is being replaced by a low wage and limited benefits business model. It’s been our experience, if left unchecked, workers and their families will be the collateral damage in the energy transition,” said Leonard. “In fact, the General Assembly rose to the challenge earlier this year and passed a new law that requires the Public Service Commission to consider in its oversight activities the maintenance of fair and stable labor standards for affected workers — that includes the approval of certificates to build power plants such as CPV’s proposed solar project.”
If CPV brings in construction workers from out of state to work temporarily during the construction phase it could negatively impact the in-state construction workers, argued Leonard.
She proposed five conditions the commission should adopt for the approval of the solar project — the first being quarterly construction employment reporting requirements that track the rate of employment of Maryland residents compared to non-state residents. The second would require CPV to provide a detailed staffing plan, which includes efforts the company has made to work with in-state based building trades unions or to use community workforce agreements with uniform wages and benefits.
The third would result in CPV’s application being denied if it relies on temporary staffing agencies or independent contractors. Leonard said the fourth should require CPV to identify how the project’s construction wage and benefits compare to the state’s prevailing wage in Garrett and nearby counties to have a benchmark. Lastly, if CPV works with a labor union through a community workforce agreement, the commission should deem it meets the intent of the new law.
“It’s our position at LIUNA that solar projects can meet the state’s clean energy goals as well as create quality jobs for local workers,” said Leonard. “This can be accomplished by ensuring compliance with the new statutory requirements to consider labor standards for workers.”
The second public hearing on the solar project will he held Oct. 19.