2015-06-05 / Community

Trustee race promises generational impact

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Of all the political contests on local ballots June 9, the one that promises the greatest impact may be the race for a seat on the Kennebunk Light and Power District Board of Trustees.

Certainly, the question of whether to keep or tear down any of the three KLP dams on the Mousam River will resonate for generations to come. After all, those structures — the Kesslen, Twine Mill and Dane Perkins dams — have been in place for five generations.

The dams are due for relicensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2022. However, because that relicensing process is so long and arduous, not to mention costly, KL&P trustees must notify FERC by March 2017 of their intention to either relicense the dams or tear them down.

With a five-year term on the board of trustees up for grabs, whoever wins the nod from voters will be placed directly on the hot seat for a historic decision — and, given the probable hit to ratepayers regardless of what decision is made, possibly in the proverbial line of fire, as well.

The decision of incumbent trustee Craig MacDonald to sit out the race — after 20 years on the board, MacDonald “simply decided not to run for re-election,” he said in a June 1 email — means the person who will help decide whether the dams should stay or go will be new to the board.

However, that does not mean the new trustee will lack for experience. All four candidates for the post can boast of healthy, relevant resumes.

Craig Cunningham is the founder of Maine Manufacturing LLC, a company started in 2007 to make products for the life sciences and medical diagnostic industries. As the head of a major manufacturing concern — he has more than 180 employees — Cunningham would certainly seem to know a thing or two about the need for reliable, affordable power.

Cunningham could not be reached for comment prior to the deadline for this week’s Post. However, he did say in a candidate’s profile published in another paper that he favors relicensing the dams. The other three candidates are all more circumspect on that front, each saying he needs to study all of the variables before making a decision. However, one of the candidates, Curtis Mildner, is critical of the job KLP trustees have done to date on releasing information on the relicensing process.

“One of the reasons I’m running is I don’t think they’re doing it right. They’re not keeping the community informed,” Mildner said. “My sense for this is that the trustees have gotten themselves into quite a mess, and they’ve done it by not publicly commenting on what’s going on early enough.”

Milder has what may be the most directly relevant experience of the four candidates. Although he’s run his own marketing research firm for the part 15 years, from 1994 to 1999 he was vice president of marketing and sales at Central Maine Power where, he says, he was in charge of setting rates and making regulatory filings to the Maine Public Utilities Commission. He served in that capacity during the decommissioning of Maine Yankee, the nuclear power plant in Wiscassett, which was shut down in 1996.

“I understand the utility business and I understand regulation,” he said. “I’ve been a part of feasibility studies for power generation, so I kind of know how that’s done. I know good outcomes, when power generation makes sense, and when it does not.”

Mildner said he had “some trouble” prying financial information from KLP, but what he’d been able to obtain so far indicates the district’s dams “only save Kennebunk ratepayers about $10,000 a year.”

“And that’s probably being optimist because it doesn’t include any administrative time spent on it,” he said. “If you are going to have dams in Kennebunk, it’s not going to be because there’s value to the electricity they generate.”

For that reason, and because he’s an avid fisherman, Mildner said he leans toward removal of the dams.

“I think the argument that the river is better off environmentally if allowed to run free is very powerful,” he said. “But I also have friends who live on the river whose property values would be negatively affected. So, I have a bias, but it’s not a very strong bias.

“I’ll put it this way, I’m pretty good at looking at information and I plan to work as someone would on a jury, examining all of the data and information,” Mildner said. Let’s see what it says, and make the best decision for everyone based on that.”

That scientific approach also is favored by William Hetzel.

“I don’t have enough data — I believe no one has enough data yet — to form an opinion on the dams,” he said. “I’m still looking for more facts in order to do what’s best for the town. But I come at this from an engineering and analysis background, so I want as much information as possible before making a decision.

“What I do know,” Hetszel said, “is that there are a lot of factors and it’s really important to be public and transparent about all of the different issues and to seek viewpoints from all areas of the town.”

Like Mildner, Hetzel favors looking beyond the dams to alternative means of power generation. That may not be surprising given that he is CEO of Pika Energy, a Westbrook company founded in 2010 that develops solar and wind technology, as well as so-called “mico-grid projects.”

Even so, Hetzel says he’s not necessarily sold on abandoning the dams for the forms of power generation he deals in.

“I think the fact that KLP has an opportunity to generate power as well as distribute it gives it a lot more options,” he said. “But, if elected, I would keep a broad perspective beyond just the dams. I think being a trustee means making decisions on all forms of energy, and the dams are only part of the overall strategy.

“I’m interested in running for the board because I want to serve the town and improve the quality of life for the citizens in Kennebunk, in terms of affordability of powering their homes, reliability of keeping the electricity on, and the security of planning for future generations.”

As to the future of fish in the Mousam, Hetzel says he has his eye on that, as well, and helping them run is not an either/or proposition.

“I think there’s a whole range of solutions for the protection of ecosystems, and most of them will be mandated by the relicens- ing process, so, there may not be a lot of choice there,” he said. “But I also think improving fish runs and the habitat is good for the quality of life for the town.”

Finally, Robert Emmons may not have the deep background in power generation that Mildner and Hetzel can boast, but he does have more to offer in terms of practical boots-on-the-ground experience.

A Kennebunk native and owner of construction company Mainely Sunrooms, Emmons has served on the board of trustees for the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District since 2008. If elected to KLP, he would continue to serve on both boards, he says.

“I know everybody down there (at KLP), I’ve worked with them,” he said. “I’d like to be on the board there to learn more of what’s going on with the dams, to learn more about that process, and to make sure the power is getting to the public at a decent rate.”

Emmons said he has no agenda and no particular goals in seeking a seat as a KLP trustee. He’s only interested in learning as much as he can as a representative of Kennebunk’s blue-collar contingent.

“I’ve been in the community and working for different municipalities all my life, so I do have a vested interest in it, to see that we get reasonable power at a reasonable cost,” he said, “but because I think there’s a lot of environmental issues to be sorted out, as well as all the financials, until that’s all brought to the table, I really don’t have an opinion. I’m not leaning either way at this time.”

Meanwhile, of the three candidates, Emmons seemed the one willing to cut current trustees the most slack.

“I think they’re doing the best they can with what information they’ve got,” he said. “It’s a tough situation. I’m sure they’re going to make the right decision at the right time.”

As he prepares to head for the exit, Mac- Donald echoes Emmons’ sentiment.

“As for the future, there are lots of changes ahead, not the least of which is the dam issue,” he said. “This is a very emotional issue with many people and organizations wishing to express their opinions. The KLPD Board of Trustees has the fiduciary responsibility to its ratepayers and the town to gather and review all the data and

Candidates


Name: Robert “Bob” Emmons Name: Robert “Bob” Emmons Name: Robert “Bob” Emmons

Age: 49

Residency: Kennebunk native

Education: Kennebunk High School

Occupation: Owner of Mainely Sunrooms construction company

Experience: Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells Water District (2008-present)

Family: Married, one adult child.

Contact: Plybll@roadrunner.com

Name: William “Bill” Hetzel
Name: William “Bill” Hetzel Name: William “Bill” Hetzel

Age: 49

Residency: 15 years (native of Concord, Mass.)

Education: B.S. in chemistry from Yale; master’s degree in engineering from MIT; MBA from MIT.

Occupation: CEO at Pika Energy

Experience: Kennebunk Site Plan Review Board (three years), Kennebunk Energy Committee (three years).

Family: Married, two school-age children

Contact: bill.hetzel@twc.com


Name: Curtis Mildner Name: Curtis Mildner Name: Curtis Mildner

Age: 61

Residency: 40 years (native of Long Island, N.Y.)

Education: B.S. in environmental science from Rutgers University, MBA from the University of Virginia

Occupation: Owner of Portland-based market research firm Market Decisions

Experience: None.

Family: Married, two adult children.

Contact: camildner@gmail.com

Name: Craig Cunningham

Education: Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor, Machine Tool Technology University of Southern Maine

Occupation: Founder of Maine Manufacturing LLC, maker of products for the life sciences and medical diagnostic industries.

Family: Married, three children

Contact: 985-3797 make an intelligent decision. The board also must manage the overall operation of the district. I wish the new board all the best and the stamina to keep the KLP lights on.

“But KLP should feel very proud of what it has accomplished during the past 20 years,” MacDonald said. “Under the expert direction of retired general manager and treasurer Sharon Staz, we have built a state-of-the-art substation in West Kennebunk and weathered the ice storm of 2008. We are the little power company that can.”

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