Competitive Power Ventures no longer plans to pursue a project to install windmills on Laurel Ridge in Upper Yoder Township.
The Maryland-based company had reached a lease agreement with Greater Johnstown Water Authority to explore the possibility of placing up to eight turbines on the mountain. But the company never officially signed the document.
On Thursday, during a regular monthly GJWA meeting, the authority and state Rep. Frank Burns, D-72nd District, a critic of the project, said they both independently confirmed that CPV has withdrawn its interest, as the project had only been in the exploratory phase.
“CPV has enjoyed a very cooperative working relationship with the GJWA,” Tom Rumsey, Competitive Power Ventures senior vice president of external affairs, said in an email sent to The Tribune-Democrat after the meeting. “In that process, we evaluated the potential of building a wind power project as we have with several other locations in the state. Today’s decision to terminate the leasing agreement with the GJWA was a mutual one. We appreciate the GJWA’s careful thought and consideration during the process.”
William Gleason Barbin, the authority’s solicitor, said he asked Competitive Power Ventures to return the contract, which GJWA already signed. The authority has no current plans to pursue a windmill project with any other company, according to Barbin.
Late last year, Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry ruled the proposed agreement did not violate the GJWA’s trust to protect and preserve the water and land.
“They only granted us permission,” Barbin said. “He never amended the deed, the trust restrictions. I honestly don’t think the trust restrictions can be amended. When the water authority put that deed of trust in in 1990 it was intended to be a permanent restriction, so that no more property was sold. Two watersheds had been sold prior to that.”
The lease agreement – and possibility of windmills being located on GJWA-owned land near Laurel Ridge State Park, Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, state game lands and watershed – drew an outcry from residents of Upper Yoder and surrounding municipalities, who organized efforts to oppose the project.
“I think it’s a public relations matter,” Barbin said when discussing possibly why CPV moved away from the project.
If installed, the windmills could have brought in more than $200,00 annually to the authority, which is looking at ways to increase revenue to pay for Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection-mandated improvements to North Fork Dam and Dalton Run Dam. Those improvements are estimated to cost at least $20 million combined.
Burns said he will work with the state to try to acquire funding and / or get the timeline for the dam upgrades to be pushed back.
“Clearly there is a lot to be done and this is a big lift but the water we drink is the best in the world and we all need to work together to help the GJWA deliver this important community utility,” Burns wrote in a letter to the authority. “Working to find funding will require team work and will take many years.”
Burns mentioned his intentions during the meeting, to which Don Hall, the board’s chairman, responded: “Well, Rep. Burns, we are looking forward to your avid financial support in helping the water authority find a way to pay a $20 million debt. You are on record as being committed to this, and we’re on record as thanking you.”
In an effort to generate revenue, the authority recently increased its capital surcharge from $6.99 per month to $9.99 for active current customers, a move expected to bring in approximately $650,000 annually.
Then, during Thursday’s meeting, the board voted 7-3 to add the $9.99 surcharge to its more than 3,000 vacant properties, as a reservation for capacity fee. “It’s a revenue-raising measure that does not hurt any of our current bill-paying customers,” Barbin said. “We have new expenses coming at us every day – the chlorine, all the things. We’ve got new expenses all the time. We always try to look at how else can we get money to fund the water system so we don’t have to raise rates more. The reservation fee is another one. The windmills were an attempt at doing that.”
GJWA also plans to tap into its almost $7.5 million in reserves to help pay for the North Fork Dam and other capital improvements.
“Two million dollars of that is budgeted to be spent this year on our 2019 capital budget, and $1.35 million of that was specifically saved to pay for North Fork,” Michael Kerr, the authority’s resident manager, said. “So, out of that $7.5 million, right now, we have $3.5 million of it budgeted to be spent – a good portion of that on North Fork itself.”