2015-03-27 / Front Page

Dam decision is due

Kennebunk Light and Power weighs relicensing vs. filing for an exemption
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


The Kesslen Dam on the Mousam River near Lafayette Square in Kennebunk is one of three operated for more than a century by the Kennebunk Light and Power District. The dams could be removed if directors rule against filing for a federal relicensing application in March 2017. On March 31, the district will unveil a report showing what the Mousam River might look like with the dams decommissioned. 
(Duke Harrington photo) The Kesslen Dam on the Mousam River near Lafayette Square in Kennebunk is one of three operated for more than a century by the Kennebunk Light and Power District. The dams could be removed if directors rule against filing for a federal relicensing application in March 2017. On March 31, the district will unveil a report showing what the Mousam River might look like with the dams decommissioned. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — While the swing Sen. Angus King made through Kennebunk on March 20 was not expressly made to hear about the federal relicensing of three dams on the Mousam River, his timing could not have been better.

On Tuesday, March 31, the Kennebunk Light and Power (KLP) District will hold a public informational session to unveil results of a report detailing what the Mousam River might look like with its three dams removed, should trustees rule against filing a federal relicensing application in March 2017. KLP’s license to operate the dams, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), expires in 2022.


Sen. Angus King, center, commiserates with Kennebunk Light and Power District outgoing General Manager Sharon Staz, left, and its new GM, Todd Shea, over the long and expensive relicensing process for three KLP dams on the Mousam River, during a visit to the district offices on Factory Pasture Road, March 20. (Duke Harrington photo) Sen. Angus King, center, commiserates with Kennebunk Light and Power District outgoing General Manager Sharon Staz, left, and its new GM, Todd Shea, over the long and expensive relicensing process for three KLP dams on the Mousam River, during a visit to the district offices on Factory Pasture Road, March 20. (Duke Harrington photo) “The fact that we have to file an intent to renew our license a full five years before it expires shows you they [FERC] recognize their process is that complicated,” said Sharon Staz, KPL’s treasurer and outgoing general manager. “The relicensing process for an operation as small as ours is as diffi- cult and as onerous and as expensive as if we were the Hoover Dam.”

According to Staz, the relicensing process could cost KLP, “anywhere from $850,000 to $1.3 million.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said King. “This is a small, 100-year-old site. Relicensing it should take 10 pages and a couple of days.”

Ostensibly on hand to see KLP’s solar powered charging station for electric cars — following trips earlier in the day to unveil new solar-power arrays at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm and the Maine Audubon headquarters in Falmouth — King showed much more interest in the dam relicensing: He spent 40 minutes chatting about it with Staz and KLP’s new general manager, Todd Shea, versus four minutes eyeballing the charging station.

“This is one of my passions, the one-sizefits-all regulatory process,” said King, who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His goal, King said, “is the whole thing of rightsizing the regulatory process.”

For KLP, however, that work may be too little, too late. King asled if KLP could file for an exemption from the relicensing process, given its small size (just 6,599 customers), age (generating power since 1893 from its dams, which were converted from wood and timber to concrete in 1954), and output (between 1.3-5 percent of its needs comes from the dams). However, Staz said an exemption is not as good as it sounds.

“We’ve been told by three different engineering firms that the process of filing for an exemption is almost as expensive as the relicensing itself,” she said.

With that in mind, KLP’s five-member board of trustees has been weighing its options. While the electricity it generates costs less then the power it purchases and passes on from Florida-based NextEra Energy, the cost of relicensing the three Mousam dams has given the KLP trustees pause.

Last summer, while water levels on the Mousam were lowered to conduct inspections of all three dams, KLP hired Wright Pierce Engineering to model what the river might look like with the structures removed.

“If the dams were to be breached, we wanted to know what the river would look like, because we thought the public had a right to know,” said Shea.

The March 31 meeting, said Shea, is intended to be the start of a public dialogue on the future of the dams, and the Mousam River.

“We’ll be sharing the modeling in the photo simulations,” said Shea. “Because that was a major hurdle in what we’ve been dealing with, that’s the first piece of solid information we’re able to provide to the public. We’re hoping by mid- to late-summer to have another meeting to provide more information. A lot of what we are

Save the date

The Kennebunk Light and Power District will hold a public informational session to unveil results of a report detailing what the Mousam River might look like with its three dams removed, should trustees rule against filing a federal relicensing application in March 2017.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31, in Room 301 at Kennebunk Town Hall. doing right now is confidential by nature because of the federal filings we have to do, but we want the public to know what’s happening, and what could happen.”

However, while the public will be shown pictures of what the Mousam might look like if allowed to flow free along the section KLP controls, that model should not be taken as a sure sign of things to come. According to KLP Vice President Wayne Berry, all options remain on the table.

“I can say this concretely, that we have not reached a decision,” he said. “I truly wish we had more answers as well, but we’re being very careful about gathering information. We want to make a good decision for everyone, but while we have a lot of data collected, there’s nothing that I would say that it’s final.

“There’s a lot of talk out there, but nobody should be thinking that we’ve made a decision. We haven’t really made any decisions, and I can say that when we do it will certainly not be all about costs, though of course that is a major consideration.”

“For the amount of power generated here, it doesn’t make sense to spend $1 million on relicensing, but then that means we lose a renewable energy source,” said King. “There ought to be a process for concerns that are under a megawatt that are ‘file it and forget it.’”

But if the dams remain, other concerns present themselves, such as fish passage.

“And, not to make a pun, but that’s a whole other school of thought,” said Staz.

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