2017-07-28 / Front Page

Board: No power play for the town

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


A crowd of about 50 residents attended a workshop of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, held Thursday, July 20, listen as attorney Scott Anderson of Portland firm Verrill Dana explains four options the town has moving forward if it wants to keep in place the three Mousam River dams operated by the Kennebunk Light and Power District now that district trustees have elected to surrender their federal power generating license. (Duke Harrington photo) A crowd of about 50 residents attended a workshop of the Kennebunk Board of Selectmen, held Thursday, July 20, listen as attorney Scott Anderson of Portland firm Verrill Dana explains four options the town has moving forward if it wants to keep in place the three Mousam River dams operated by the Kennebunk Light and Power District now that district trustees have elected to surrender their federal power generating license. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — The final fate of the three Mousam River dams in Kennebunk remains up in the air, but after nearly four hours of special meeting time spread over two days last week, selectmen have decided one thing — the town will not take over the dams, at least not with an eye to generating power.

If the town enters into an agreement with Kennebunk Light and Power to keep the dams in place, or tries to meet the same objective by protesting KLP’s planned license surrender to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the only goal will be to maintain the current profile of the river. The town will not attempt, either by itself or with a partner, to enter the hydro-power business.

That means an industry that dates back more than 190 years in Kennebunk will come to an end in 2022 — just three years shy of the bicentennial of the first Mousam dams, erected in 1925 to power a cotton mill. Or at least it will end unless somebody steps forward before September 11 to apply for the federal licence KLP plans to give up.

That Sept. 11 date was a bone of contention at the July 20 selectboard workshop after it was presented as a deadline in a series of options presented to the board by attorney Scott Anderson, from Portland law firm Verrill Dana.

On June 15, 2016, after more than three years of wrangling with the topic, the KLP board of trustees voted 4-0 to notify FERC that they would not seek to renew the district’s hydro license. Official notice of that decision was sent March 29. Instead, KLP plans to transition from hydro to solar power for electricity made locally (most of what it sends to rate payers is purchased off the grid).

On June 1, KLP inked a deal with DG Maine Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Florida based NextEra Energy Resources, to build a 2.9 megawatt solar array on land adjacent to the district’s West Kennebunk substation. KLP Executive Dirctor Todd Shea said last week the first solar panels should be up and running by next spring.

By the time of the March filing, however, voters had weighed in with a series of three citizen-initiated, non-binding referendum questions, all strongly in favor of keeping the dams. That prompted a joint workshop of KLP trustees and Kennebunk selectmen Jan. 18, at which Gov. Paul LePage put in a surprise appearance, to throw the weight of his support behind retaining the dams. On April 11, the town filed as an “intervener” in FERC’s dam decision, putting it in the loop for all subsequent action.

That resulted in a mid-May notice that anyone wishing to take over KLP’s license had until Sept. 11 to do so. However, Selectman Ed Karytko maintains Adam Cote, a Drummond Woodsum lawyer hired to help the town navigate the Byzantine FERC filing process had advised selectmen the Sept. 11 date was nothing to worry about. Cote dropped out of the retainer when he announced a run for the Democratic Party nomination for governor, prompting the move to Verrill Dana.

But Cote’s pre-campaign advice was why Karytko was so incensed, he said, given conflicting information from Anderson, who said that barring a very extraordinary extension from FERC, Sept. 11 is a drop dead date should selectmen elect to keep the generators running.

“We have a member of the press here, so I will won’t use any expletives, but I am really annoyed. Really annoyed,” Karytko said. “I sat here four times and asked the question four times, how much time do we have, and the answer kept coming back, oh, this thing takes years. Don’t worry about it. Now we’re told we have 120 days, and that clock started back in May. How do we get our money back?”

However, both Selectman Shiloh Schulte and board chairman Dick Morin pointed out the Sept. 11 deadline only applies if Kennebunk files, by itself or with a partner, to assume the KLP generating license. That, both said, was not something selectmen are anxious to do.

To date, the only potential partner to come forward has been Belfast-based Surge Hydro, which made a close-door presentation to selectmen in March. For the first time, selectmen revealed July 20 that Surge owners David Markley and Nicholas Cabral had asked for a $1 million loan from the town. The reason for the financing need, Morin said, was that Surge had calculated profit margins on the project to be “razor thin.” Schulte went further, calling it “a losing proposition.”

“This is not something I was going to sit here and vote to spend the taxpayers’ money on,” Morin said.

Morin said Town Manager Mike Pardue had spent “an extraordinary amount of time scouring the countryside” since the Surge meeting looking for some other partner. But not came forward, and even the governor, who both Pardue and Morin “agreed to take over the dams” said the state would do so only to keep the dams up, not to generate power.

Thursday’s workshop then continued to a special board meeting on Friday, at which selectmen gathered to vote on a contract offered by Pittsfield-based energy consulting firm Kleinschmidt Associates, to conduct a peer review of a Wright Pierce engineering report on the Mousam River Dams, originally released in October 2015 and revised in May 2016. Kleinschmidt came recommended by Anderson, who said the firm could assess the town’s options for acquiring and operating the dams. Kleinschmidt said it could do that work for $13,000 and, for an extra $28,000 it could begin the paperwork needed to meet the Sept. 11 deadline to file a notice of intent to assume the KLP license.

However, selectmen agreed they had no interest in forming a town hydropower department, and with no partner waiting in the wings, shut down that option, even though Karytko pleaded for time to conduct his own head-hunting search.

Selectmen then voted to ask Kleinschmidt to revise its proposed scope of work, to still review the Wright Pierce report “for no more than $13,000,” but with an eye toward assessing the town’s options to retain the dams as free-standing structures independent of any power generation. Included in that review will be the likely cost of any fish ladder systems the state and federal governments would presumably require.

Karytko voted against that motion, as did Selectman Dan Boothby, who declared himself unwilling to vote for anything, given that the Kleinschmidt proposal was handed to selectmen just moments before the start of the meeting.

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

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