December 21, 2010 - Penobscot River dam removal one step closer

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The plan to remove several hydroelectric dams on the Penobscot River reached a milestone yesterday: transfer of ownership of three dams from PPL to the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.  The Trust plans to remove the Veazie and Great Works dams, while building fish passage at the Howland dam.  By removing the two dams and generation assets, about 16 MW of renewable capacity will be removed from the grid, although permitted increases in power production upstream are expected to recover this capacity.

The lower Penobscot River seen from Fort Knox in
Prospect, about 25 miles downstream from the
dams to be removed.
The sweeping Penobscot River dam removal project arose from a 2004 settlement agreement called the Lower Penobscot Basin Comprehensive Settlement Accord.  In that settlement, seven conservation groups, hydroelectric company PPL Corp., the Penobscot Indian Nation and state and federal agencies, agreed to the removal of both the two dams as well as the removal of flashboards and the installation of a fish bypass at the Howland Dam.

Dam removal and fish passage installation come at a cost.  To make the deal possible, the Trust raised almost $10 million in private funds from donors.  The Trust married those funds with about $15 million in federal grant money in order to purchase the three dams from PPL.  (In 2009, PPL sold off most of its other Maine holdings to Black Bear Hydro Partners, LLC.  As authorized by the settlement agreement, Black Bear Hydro is increasing the hydroelectric production capacity of other dams on the system, including the recently repowered Orono Dam.)  Another $25 million is projected to be needed for the actual dam removal and fish passage projects.

Now that the dams have changed hands, the removal of the Veazie and Great Works dams may occur as early as 2011.  As the dams come down, the Trust is hoping that fish migration routes and recreational opportunities will increase, and outweigh the societal costs of the loss of the dams' hydroelectric capacity - especially here, where an agreement to allow increased production upstream will offset these losses.

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