After months of debate between US environmental groups and the hydro power industry, an agreement has been reached over the controversial removal of Edwards dam on the Kennebec river in Maine. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said that this was not a call to remove dams but a challenge to dam owners and operators, who will now have to demonstrate that hydroelectric dams can operate economically with the public’s and the environment’s best interests in mind.
In November 1997, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) made the historic decision, based on ‘compelling environmental considerations’, to refuse renewal of the 3.5MW hydroelectric dam’s operating licence. For the first time ever, the Commission ordered that the dam should be removed at the licensee’s expense. FERC said this action would help provide spawning habitats for fish, and would benefit wetland habitats and recreational boating, while power produced at the dam could be replaced by existing resources in the region.
Edwards Manufacturing Company (EMC), co-licensee with the City of Augusta and owner of the dam, appealed against the decision. It stated that FERC had no authority, either moral or legal, to impose the costs of a policy decision on the existing licensees.
However in late May 1998, after a meeting between the licensees, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Kennebec Coalition (consisting of American Rivers, The Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Trout Unlimited), the State of Maine and the National Marine Fisheries Services (among others), an agreement was reached about dam removal and whose financial responsibility it will be.
Some reports claim that EMC’s decision to accept dam removal may be partly due to the imminent termination of its power purchase agreement with Central Maine Power. Vice president of EMC, Mark Isaacson, said that his and president Herbert Miller’s decision was borne through a desire to wrap up business in Maine on a ‘positive note’.
Called the Lower Kennebec river comprehensive hydro power settlement, the agreement states that on 1 January 1999 EMC and the City of Augusta will transfer all licensing rights and responsibilities associated with the dam to the state of Maine, who will also accept ownership of the dam. Dam removal will take place in 1999 in ‘as expeditious a manner as possible’. All parties who signed the agreement stated that it was ‘fair and reasonable’.
Under the terms of the agreement, the financial burden of dam removal does not fall upon Edwards Manufacturing Company. The Kennebec Hydro Developers Group (KHDG), a trade body comprising Central Maine Power Company and other hydro power generators upstream of Edwards dam, has agreed to provide US$4.75M in installments. The money will be used for dam removal costs and restoration of fish in the Kennebec river. In return for this payment, fish passage obligations in the current licences for hydro facilities under the control of members of KHDG will be amended. The hydro facilities in question include Fort Halifax, Benton Falls, Lockwood, UAH-Hydro Kennebec, Shawmut and Weston.
Other financial aid will come from Bath Iron Works, who will provide US$2.5M for the costs incurred by dam removal. The money will also be used to mitigate the fish habitat impacted by the company’s ship yard modernisation project along the river. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will manage the funds given by Bath Iron Works and KHDG.
EMC has also been called on to contribute US$100,000 to create a city park by the river.
The national-hydropower-association (NHA) called the settlement ‘a hopeful development for the industry’. Exec-utive director Linda Church Ciocci, said: ‘We are pleased with this settlement because it is a voluntary removal of a hydroelectric facility whose terms and conditions were negotiated by the licensee. It is only fair that the costs of project decommissioning do not fall solely on the shoulders of the licensee but on those who have benefited from the project.’
NHA still believes FERC ‘overstepped its bounds’ by ordering removal of Edwards dam. However, as this case has now shown, in any future instances where dam removal is agreed upon, a negotiated settlement with shared responsibility for the costs is the most appropriate outcome.
Mark Isaacson, from EMC, said the settlement reflects a spirit of compromise and flexibility on the part of all involved.