Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee:
On behalf of NRCM and its 16,000 members and supporters, I am testifying in opposition to LD 1244, An Act To Amend Environmental Permitting Standards.
NRCM opposes Section 2 of this bill on the grounds that it undoes the good work of the last Legislature, which passed LD 385, An Act To Improve Wind Energy Development Permitting. NRCM believes that this bill provides the appropriate opportunities for public participation in the wind power permitting process.
NRCM also opposes the sections of LD 1244 relating to microhydropower (Sections 5-9). These sections of the bill exempt microhydropower projects from many of the most important requirements of the Maine Waterway Development and Conservation Act (“MWDCA”, 38 MRSA §630 et. seq. I have attached the sections of this act that I think are particularly relevant to all hydropower projects, including microhydropower projects. These sections of the MWDCA accomplish the following:
- Require DEP to consult with other state agencies (38 MRSA §634). LD 1244 eliminates this requirement and gives sole permitting authority to DEP with no requirement to consult other agencies. This is particularly egregious with regard to Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) and Department of Marine Resources (DMR), who have strong interests in fish passage issues. A dam blocks a stream no matter what, regardless of whether it generates less than 100 kw or more than 10 MW. The fish passage experts at IFW and DMR should have a say in whether or not blocking a particular stream will threaten fisheries resources, and the Legislature should continue to require DEP to take these opinions into account in microhydropower permits.
- Require a balancing of key criteria: Financial Capability, Safety, Public Benefits, Traffic Movement, Maine Land Use Planning Commission Zoning Requirements, Environmental and Energy Considerations (including fisheries and wildlife impacts), and Water Quality. LD 1244 would remove the requirement for a microhydropower project applicant to demonstrate that on balance, the benefits of a project outweigh the costs on the basis of these criteria and replace it with the requirement that it not have an undue impact on the environment and not violate water quality standards.
We believe the Legislature was correct to require balancing the costs and benefits for all hydropower projects as laid out in the MWDCA. Again, dams block streams no matter how much or how little electricity they generate. The Legislature should not dismiss the impacts small dams can have on public safety or on fish and wildlife. The Legislature should also not dismiss the importance of small dam owners having the financial capability to maintain their project safely and mitigate its environmental impacts. The weighing of all of the criteria in the MWDCA concerning hydropower is important to protect Maine waters and public safety.
NRCM also believes that LD 1244 undermines the MWDCA to promote a generating method that has very questionable economic and energy benefits for Maine.
I ran some simple calculations on the attached list of hydropower dams in Maine. Here are the results:
- The total generating capacity of these hydropower dams is 748 MW. The total generating capacity of micohydropower dams — dams with less than 100 kw generating capacity — is 0.47 MW. This suggests that larger dams are a far more important energy resource than microhydro dams. Microhydro dams will block streams just as effectively as large dams, but they will never generate anywhere near as much energy.
- Even the 73 dams under 10 MW in this list only have 183 MW of generating capacity. This is less than ¼ of Maine’s total hydropower capacity.
- In contrast, the largest nine dams on this list, at 19.4 MW and above — have 392 MW of capacity, which is more than half of the total capacity.
Thus, large hydropower dams are far more important for Maine’s energy future than small ones. On the other hand, small hydropower dams block streams just as effectively as large ones and are likely to cause more damage to the environment per unit of energy produced.
Finally, NRCM urges the Committee to consider that the recent report from the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security on future hydropower potential in Maine—the Maine Hydropower Report—stated the following:
“Following review of the initial screening results, the analysis further winnowed the list by removing dams with drainage areas less than 25 square miles or estimated installed capacity less than 100 kW, since it would seem impractical to develop those.”
This report did not even think 100 kw dams were worth considering.
We urge the Committee not to undue the MWDCA for this very small energy resource that will likely have disproportionately large impacts on Maine’s aquatic environment.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.