2017-06-09 / Community

Two seek pivotal power district spot

Election 2017
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Most elected positions in the Kennebunks are for three years, but members of the Kennebunk Light and Power District Board of Trustees serve in five-year positions. This year, two candidates are competing for one open seat — incumbent Wayne Berry and challenger Bradley Scott Ducharme.

Last year, trustees voted to not pursue federal relicensing of KLP’s three dams on the Mousam River, formalizing that decision in a March 29 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Now trustees need to decide what to do with the power-generating facilities on which KLP was founded nearly 125 years ago. Should KLP maintain the dams? Tear them down? Sell them to another entity? Give them to the town? Or, maybe something else entirely? Either Berry or Ducharme will help make that decision.

Candidate surveys were sent to both hopefuls. The completed questionnaires are printed in alphabetical order.

Name: Wayne E. Berry

Age: 67

Address: Montgomery Court

Residency: 67 years

Phone: 967-2179 email: wberry3@roadrunner.com

Occupation: Builder

Family: Married, with three children and three grandchildren

Education: Attended University of Maine with majors in chemical engineering and business management

Political experience: Kennebunk Board of Selectman 2001-2011 (served time as chairman); Kennebunk Light and Power District Board of Trustees (2012-present)

Organizations: Past member of the Kennebunk Lower Village Committee (founding member), Kennebunk Affordable Housing Committee, Kennebunk Board of Assessment Review, Kennebunk Zoning Board of Appeals, Kennebunk Budget Board, and the Maine State Housing Authority Advisory Board.

Top three issues: 1. Financial stability for KLPD — We are continuing to undergo substantial changes in how we do our job of delivering reliable service with reasonably priced energy costs. After a long period of operation with a relatively unchanged environment of the utility industry and stable rates, in the last few years we have seen disruptive technology taking its toll on the electric industry across the country and world, for both consumer-owned and investor-based utilities. In the past, the district did not adequately plan for the eventual FERC licensing nor set aside any designated funds for such purpose. We are faced with continued increases in operating expenses while having to absorb extraordinary one-time FERC expenses, all at rate-payer expense.

2. Diversifying our supply sources and infrastructure — We have recently signed a long-term contract with a solar array provider which will give us initially about three times the energy produced from hydro and which we could maximize up to at least 50 percent of our total load. Along with ongoing discussions with other possible source providers such as independent hydroelectric, co-generation, wind, natural gas, and distributed systems generators, we continue to explore other avenues of procuring reasonably costed energy for our customers. And we continue to evaluate how such diversification may affect our current infrastructure and what needs to take place to accommodate future improvements and growth.

3. Strategic plan — We began working on creating a strategic plan nearly two years ago to guide the district, management, and future boards, ensuring that the quality of service, reliability, and reasonable costs of operations will continue for our future ratepayers and citizens. It will involve a number of workshops where we can work through the myriad possibilities, both real and the possible, integrating the best opinions from industry professionals and incorporating direct input from you the users of the system. This will take time, a lot of discussion and will probably continue to be a work in progress as we move into the energy future ahead of us, even if we cannot see beyond the horizon of tomorrow’s promises.

Why are you seeking this elected office?

In deciding to run for a second consecutive term, I considered what has been accomplished to date and what needs to be continued. First and foremost, KLPD is an electricity supplier and distributor with quality reliable service and I want to continue to move us forward with that in mind. However, in the last five years, the necessity of addressing the FERC licensing process has been more of an encompassing and daunting task than one would think it should be. After all, you can email in your renewal of your state driver’s license along with the $30 fee and continue on your merry way. Not so with the federal system. After years of study and advice from varied sources, legal, historical, engineering, licensing professionals and a number of citizen advocacy groups, it became clear to me that the issues of hydroelectric generation and ownership of the dams on the Mousam were seemingly intertwined in the public’s mind, but not necessarily in regard to the FERC license.

Last June I made the motion to notify FERC that we were not going to continue our license with them to generate electricity, but purposely reserved mentioning the dams, hence uncoupling one from the other, hoping that we would get some response from FERC that would allow us a path to freedom. While the dams are historically and aesthetically a part of the town, hydroelectricity generation is no longer the only path for us to light our homes. After listening carefully to all those who wished to present their point of view to the board, I neither endorsed nor accepted endorsement from any of the groups and based my decision on facts and numbers. I will continue to work for financial stability and sustainable reliability for all of our customers.

If you could change any one thing about KLPD, what would it be and how would you do it?

As much as it would be nice to be able to expand our territory to include all Kennebunk taxpayers within our system, that is not a realistic goal at this time.

One of the items that I have focused on and will continue to do is the way we, as an electric utility, are treated with our ability to collect the debts owed to us by the customers who partake of our product and services. Other essential services are allowed to manage their errant customers through a variety of methods including being able to disconnect services and/or place a lien on the real estate property rights of the address to which the services are delivered. Municipalities, water districts, and sewer districts all have ultimate collection procedures for services rendered. We, at the district, are not allowed to do the same. If ever anyone thinks that electricity is not an essential service, try living without it for a few days.

My goal this next year or two is to get the Public Utilities Commission and the legislature to recognize that we need to be able to collect those debts. Our uncollected revenues run over a hundred thousand dollars each month, through no fault of our staff who diligently work to take payments, we as a board have to write off substantial amounts of uncollectible revenue, though justly earned.

The rest of you ratepayers pick up the slack for those who don’t or won’t pay. We do not mark up or make a profit on the electricity we sell; we live or die on our delivery charges which are kept to minimally optimal amounts.

Allowing that your position might evolve or even change entirely as new information becomes available, what do you currently view as the best possible fate for the Mousam River dams?

My position on the fate of the dams has not changed and is not likely to change.

The dams are and have been, far back past my memory, an integral and historic part of the town of Kennebunk. Nothing I have heard, or been told to date, makes me think that they should be removed. Amended perhaps. Augmented perhaps. Maybe even some day returning to a viable source of renewable energy. When technological advances in hydroelectrical generation come to the mainstream, and they will, our dams will then offer an opportunity to continue our country’s move toward energy independence. Uncoupling the electrical generation component from the physical existence of the dams themselves is recognizing that they have significance beyond their current use.

Whether the district continues to own them and explore our options, or whether the town of Kennebunk and the district can form a beneficial public/public partnership, or whether we can find a forward-thinking private partner to work with, I expect that future generations of Kennebunk citizens (and ratepayers) will be able to walk across the bridge and experience the roar of the tumbling waters and the cooling spray from Mother Nature’s bounty.

Name: Bradley “Scott” Ducharme

Age: 61

Address: Western Avenue

Residency: 37 years (born in Wells)

Phone: 641-7568 email: sonjohans@aol.com

Occupation: Owner/Operator Shorelands Guest Resort seasonal cottages, at 247 Western Avenue (1992-present); Retired July 2016 from Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (worked for 40 years as a U.S. Coast Guard licensed chief engineer on various types of turbine engines)

Family: Married, 36 years, with four children, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren

Education completed: Bachelors degree in marine engineering from Maine Maritime Academy, 1977.

Political experience: Republican candidate for state legislature (House District 8), 2016

Organizations and activities: Member Kennebunks and Arundel Chamber of Commerce (1992-present), Kennebunkport Christmas Prelude volunteer.

Top three issues:

1. Public participation — As a trustee, I pledge to listen to rate payers’ input be- fore any major decisions are made.

2. Balance — I will strive to bring balance to the board with new thoughts and insight from an engineering and business perspective. I will collaborate with Kennebunk’s selectmen and be proactive in solving the public’s concerns.

3. Rates — I will seek out grants to help upgrade and maintain our generation resources, along with exploring all avenues of energy, including solar, hydro-power, co-generation, and battery storage, to make KLP rates affordable.

Why are you seeking a position on the KLP Board of Trustees?

I want to bring the people’s voice back to the Kennebunk Light and Power District board and work sincerely in partnership with the town selectmen. I plan on utilizing my engineering and businessman background to help preserve and update the assets and facilities that are yours as a ratepayer of this proud consumer owned utility. I am mindful of the history of this community having direct ancestors (Stevens) going back to 1690 living along the Mousam River in Kennebunk. I will be flexible enough to ensure that the right decisions are being made by me as a trustee on behalf of the people of Kennebunk.

If you could change any one thing about KLP, what would it be and how would you do it?

I would not have voted to surrender the license for power generation on the Mousam River, or filed the notice of intent with FERC, as my opponent did when he made the original motion to do so. The people of Kennebunk voted in November 2016 to keep the power generation on the Mousam River by over 70 percent of the vote in a presidential election cycle. At this point in time I do not know if this action is revocable, but if allowed, I would petition in collaboration with the town selectmen to FERC, along with the federal and state government, to reduce the cost of this relicensing process and provide grants in helping with the costs. Resolution of the Mousam River dam issue should be done in such a way as the voters’ choice is secured.

Allowing that your position might evolve or even change entirely as new information becomes available, what do you currently view as the best possible fate for the Mousam River dams?

I believe that if the power generation ceases on the Mousam River in Kennebunk, then the dams will be removed. The three dams should stay for their historical and recreational value, and fire–fighting reservoirs, as well as preserving the incredible ecosystem that now exists, and to produce clean hydropower in increase Kennebunk’s sustainability. The best possible fate would be another company taking over the upgrade, maintenance, and operation of the power generation equipment for the three dams.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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