Revised: March 2014 Contact: (207) 287-7688
The relicensing of hydroelectric generating and water storage dams in Maine provides a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to shape the destiny of our river resources.
Hydropower projects are licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which has jurisdiction over all generating and storage dams on navigable waters. Projects on non-navigable rivers that have undergone post-1935 construction and affect interstate commerce (as through an inter- connection with a public utility power grid) also fall under FERC’s control. Licenses are valid for 30 to 50 years and must then be renewed.
102 hydropower dams are now licensed in Maine. These have a combined installed generating capacity of over 743 megawatts (roughly equivalent to one nuclear power plant), as well as billions of cubic feet of water storage capacity. An additional 27 small-scale hydro projects have an exemption from licensing.
Relicensing Activity in Maine
Since 1979, 55 Maine hydropower dams have been relicensed. Another 11 dams are currently pending for relicensing, with more dams due for relicensing in coming years. And one dam—the Edwards Dam in Augusta—has been removed after relicensing was denied by FERC. See the reverse side of this sheet for a table of license expirations in Maine.
The State’s Role in Relicensing
In order for a hydropower project to be relicensed by FERC, the State must first certify that continued operation of the project will comply with Maine’s water quality standards. These standards relate to the waterbody’s physical characteristics (e.g., minimum dissolved oxygen levels) as well as its designated uses (recreation, fishing, aquatic habitat, etc.). Existing in-stream uses must be protected under the State’s “antidegradation” policy.
By Executive Order of the Governor, DEP is the certifying agency for all hydropower project licensing and relicensings statewide, except for projects in unorganized territories subject to permitting by the Land Use Regulation Commission.
Through the water quality certification process, the DEP has imposed various conditions on projects undergoing relicensing to ensure that State water quality standards are maintained. Typical conditions
include minimum flow releases, allowable
impoundment drawdowns, construction of public boat ramps, canoe portage trails, and other recreational facilities, and construction of new or improved fish passage facilities.
The DEP can regulate in another way as well. Any proposed relicensing that calls for the expansion of an existing dam or generating facility must be approved under the Maine Waterway Development and Conservation Act. This statute requires an evaluation of the full range of potential impacts, including impacts on wetlands, water quality, soils, fish and wildlife resources, historic and archaeological sites, public access, flooding, and energy generation.
Federal Role in Relicensing
To issue a license under the Federal Power Act, originally enacted in 1920, FERC must find that a project is “best adapted to a comprehensive plan for improving or developing a waterway.” The Electric Consumers Protection Act of 1986 directs FERC to consider power and non-power uses in making this determination. Specifically, FERC must give “equal consideration to the purposes of energy conservation, the protection, mitigation of damage to, and enhancement of fish and wildlife, the protection of recreational opportunities, and the preservation of other aspects of environmental quality.”
The Relicensing Process
Relicensing begins with a 3-to-5 year pre- application consultation process during which applicants, agencies and other interested parties identify environmental issues, address information needs, and explore mitigation options. Any necessary studies are then conducted, and a draft application is prepared for review and comment.
Federal law requires that a final application for relicensing be filed with FERC no later than 2 years prior to license expiration. If necessary, FERC will issue annual extensions of the license until the relicensing process is complete.
Hydropower relicensing will greatly affect the character of the State’s river resources for the next generation. DEP is committed to working with other agencies and the public to achieve a carefully considered balance among competing uses and resources, a balance that will enhance environmental values while encouraging the wise multiple use of Maine’s rivers.
|2000||Forest City*||St. Croix|
|West Grand Lake*||St. Croix|
|Sysladobsis Lake*||St. Croix|
|2019||Lower Barker||L. Androscoggin|
|Squa Pan||Squa Pan|
|Great Falls||Salmon Falls|
|Twine Mill Dam||Mousam|
|Upper Barker||L. Androscoggin|
|Upper Rumford Falls||Androscoggin|
|Lower Rumford Falls||Androscoggin|
|Hackett Mills||L. Androscoggin|
|2030||Upper Kezar Falls||Ossipee|
|Lower Kezar Falls||Ossipee|
|Rice Rips (M3)||Messalonskee|
|Union Gas (M5)||Messalonskee|
|Sandy River||Sandy River|
|2036||Gulf Island-Deer Rips||Androscoggin|
|2037||South Berwick||Salmon Falls|
|Canada Falls Lake||Penobscot|
* Currently operating under annual license.
** New license currently stayed.