Facts & Figures
Let's Get Down to The Facts:
Kennebunk Light & Power, (KLPD), voted in June 2016 to not renew their license to produce hydropower and submitted that information to the federal agency responsible, (FERC – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), for making the final decision on the dams future. That submission means that when the license expires in about five years, KLPD will no longer be allowed to operate the dams, even if they were to change their minds and want to continue. The filing, called an NOI (Notice of Intent) starts a review process that involves federal and state agencies and looks at the impact of this decision. For one of many examples, if the dams came down causing the river to largely dry up, there could be significant pollutants under the silt layer and that would need to be studied and cleaned up. KLPD is entirely responsible for the studies directed by FERC and any costs associated with remediation efforts. This process will take approximately five years and the ruling will be made by FERC.
The KLPD filing opened the door for other companies, agencies or the Town to step in and apply for a new license. Our Selectmen, to their credit, hired one of New England’s most experienced law firms, (Verrill Dana), to look into the implications, aware that townspeople voted overwhelmingly last November to both keep the dams and hydro production. A presentation was made to the Selectmen with the recommendation that an experienced engineering firm (Kleinschmidt) review the various existing reports. The purpose was to establish costs for keeping or removing the dams and, by extension, generating or ceasing to produce electricity. At another Selectmen meeting a day later, the Selectmen were given a proposal from Kleinschmidt. Rather than go ahead with this short inexpensive study, they decided that the Town did not want to get into the hydro generation business. So they asked for another proposal that limited the study to costs associated with either taking down or keeping the dams without electricity being generated. They will receive and discuss the new proposal at their next meeting August 8.
Unfortunately, the current stand of the Selectmen Board does little to help either save the dams or the river. In fact, it is actually a potential waste of taxpayers’ money because such examination of costs will automatically happen because KLPD is relinquishing their license and FERC will require such a study to be paid for by KLPD. Also, there are so many unknowns in dam destruction or retention. Cost estimates on either side can be wrong by millions of dollars if looked at in isolation without hydro generation. The initial proposal by the town’s lawyers was more comprehensive because, if our latest figures are correct (and the Kleinschmidt study could confirm these), it would be considerably cheaper to keep the dams, keep the river intact and continue to generate electricity (thus attracting new vendors).
KLPD did look for firms interested in purchasing the dams several years ago. Several firms investigated further, but did not pursue a purchase. Recently, one company approached both KLPD and later the Selectmen. However, that firm wanted financial backing or guarantees which neither the District nor the Town wanted to provide. One difficulty is that firms who may have been interested had old figures that have since been revised to reflect much better financial gains from hydro generation and our own figures are even rosier. We are confident that if we can get the new figures verified independently by Kleinschmidt, there are several hydro operators who will be interested in taking over.
The dams provide a renewable, sustainable, clean energy source that is a guaranteed source of electricity, increases the stability and reliability of our electrical supply, and reduces the impact of global warming. With newer technology, it is expected that even more hydro power can be produced in the future. Tons of carbon-based emissions, from the electricity produced by coal and oil creating much of the electricity on the grid, will, therefore, be saved.
For many years the equipment on these three generating dams has been left in disrepair. It is old, breaks down easily and with a carbon build-up is even potentially dangerous. Replacing these with the new micro-turbines, together with adding solar power now under consideration, would help maintain our beautiful environment using a green, eco-friendly approach.
Hydro energy is inexpensive, less than what is paid in getting energy from the grid, and saves the ratepayers money. Without the dams, more energy will have to be drawn from external sources increasing the cost. Financial experts have examined the real costs of retaining or destroying the dams and found initial cost estimates inaccurate. Keeping the dams will actually save ratepayers money. Interestingly, in the report to the KLPD, it looked like the cost of re-licensing and continuing hydro generation was much more costly than simply giving up the license and destroying the dams. The latest figures, (read on), show quite the reverse is true.
The flip side of the coin shows that property values along the river will decline, as they already had during the decision-making process. This not only could lead to extensive litigation but in about two years after the prices flatten out, re-evaluation of properties could reduce tax for river abutters but increase tax for the rest of the townspeople.
In the past, the 13 dams currently on the river supported industries such as shoe manufacturing that released toxic chemicals into the water. Upstream, sewage was released into the river and, with run-off, there has been a goodly amount of pollution pumped into the river. Some will have washed out to sea but there is a good chance that much remain buried under layers of silt. If the river dries up, these toxins could be exposed to the environment raising potential health issues for Kennebunk residents, some even speculating that sections could be labeled a “superfund” site.
In places along the river, the banks are steep. With river flowing, this is not a major issue but if the dams were removed, this topographical feature becomes a hazard for children. Opponents of the dams contend that over a several year process erosion will lower the danger but it is a major source of concern in the immediate future.
The river and its ecosystem are a couple of centuries old and support wildlife including fresh water fish, amphibians and plant life. Some, like certain turtles, frogs and thermogenic plants, which are threatened or endangered, are unlikely to survive a new ecosystem caused by dam destruction