ELLSWORTH — In December 2015 Black Bear Hydro Partners LLC filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to renew its license to operate its hydroelectric station at the Union River dam in Ellsworth.
Since then, the company argued it could not change the way it managed fluctuations in the level of the water in Graham Lake that flows over the Ellsworth dam and powers its generator turbines.
It maintained that position in its application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the Water Quality Certification required as part of the licensing process.
Earlier this week, the company owned by the $31 billion Canadian limited partnership Brookfield Energy Partners L.P., itself owned by the $330 billion “alternative asset management company” Brookfield Asset Management Inc., told regulators it could reduce the up and down in the water level in Graham Lake. And the floodgates could be open to further changes in the way the Graham Lake and Ellsworth dams operate.
In an amended application filed with DEP on Monday, Black Bear offered to reduce its annual “drawdown limit,” the amount by which it can lower the lake’s water level, by some 47 percent, from 10.8 feet to 5.7 feet.
In the same filing, the company proposed to increase the “seasonal minimum flow” over the two dams.
According to the application, “the new minimum flow schedule is expected to enhance downstream fish passage, and, in combination with the proposed narrowing of the Graham Lake operating range will enhance downstream aquatic habitat.” The company made the changes in the minimum flow, it said in the amended application, to comply with recommendations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service filed last year in response to the original application and comments from FERC.
Black Bear estimates that the changes will reduce its potential annual generating capacity by approximately 800 MWh (megawatt hours). A megawatt hour is the equivalent of one million watts of electrical power used for one hour.
“We recognize there are issues with the water quality,” Brookfield spokeswoman Samantha Edwards said Wednesday morning. The revised drawdown will “better align with FERC’s proposal while maintaining flood control.”
At a meeting in Ellsworth City Hall almost exactly one year ago, owners of property surrounding Graham Lake voiced serious concerns about the drawdown of water from the lake. Black Bear’s amended application would seem to address that issue, but some lakefront property owners are still dissatisfied.
“A lot of us would be happier if it (the drawdown limit) was like three feet,” shorefront property owner Ed Damm said Wednesday morning.
The proposed changes don’t satisfy the Downeast Salmon Federation, a conservation group that has been involved in the relicensing process.
“Lake waterfront landowners (as well as those downstream) and fish and wildlife habitat would greatly benefit from a new drawdown level that is much closer to the three feet,” federation biologist Brett Ciccotelli, said in an email on Tuesday.
The smaller drawdown would also “be more likely to comply with state water quality standards” imposed by law. “The DEP needs to hold Brookfield to the same rules as everybody else.”