Dam license positive news

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently released preliminary indications of support for continued operation of the Union River and Graham Lake dams.

Over five-plus years of hearings, statements, testimony and submitted evidence, Black Bear Hydro, the dam’s owner, has worked with FERC to ensure continued operation of the dam and continued generation of hydroelectric power.

Several interest groups, including the Downeast Salmon Federation, have put forth proposals for fish passage, fish protection and fish stocking programs to be initiated by the applicant. Residents along Graham Lake, as well as those with property on Leonard Lake in Ellsworth, also submitted testimony to the process requesting more consideration of the often dramatic water level fluctuations allowed under the existing dam license.

The preliminary response indicates that several concerns will be addressed with any licensing going forward. Water level fluctuation guidelines reduce by more than half the allowable level changes, from almost 11 feet to 4.5 feet. The recommendations also address fish protection and general aquatic health. Not everyone is fully pleased, but the compromises give stakeholders something to hang their hats on.

While drawing up notable and conscientious changes in the dam’s operation, the next 30-year license must still meet Maine Department of Environmental Protection criteria before a new one is issued. Nothing ever is assured until the final document is in hand. This is especially true with a new administration taking office in Augusta.

One component of the dam that is not getting enough recognition is the electric power that is generated. While not in the same league as the Hoover Dam, Ellsworth’s dam does generate clean, renewable energy for the region and the state’s electric grid. Hancock County has become the center of several recent renewable power proposals with increased wind tower construction as well as large solar arrays planned. It’s worth noting that hydropower is a renewable energy source that can be managed and controlled for peak load efficiency, while its wind and solar siblings cannot.

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