Hydroelectric Power in Maine

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Fish Ladder at Worumbo Dam in Brunswick, MaineWelcome to Maine’s conversation about hydroelectric power in Maine.  If you are buying the standard offer electricity supply from one of Maine’s utilities, you may be surprised to hear that you are using hydropower as a part of your energy mix.  The funny thing is that Bangor Hydro provides the lowest percentage of hydropower in its standard offer mix of all Maine’s major electricity providers: less than 5%.  Central Maine Power provides about 30% hydropower and Maine Public Service Company provides just over 27%.  Go figure.

When Maine deregulated the electricity market, Bangor Hydro had to stop producing electricity, so it sold its dams to Pennsylvania Power & Light (PP&L). PP&L sold six of them in turn to Black Bear Hydro Partners, LLC in November of 2009.  Black Bear now operates dams in these locations: Ellsworth, Medway, Milford, Orono, Stillwater and West Enfield.  There are many other hydropower dams in Maine operated by a number of different owners.  They can all sell the power that they generate to the local utility grid for delivery to our homes and businesses.

There is a large capacity in Maine for what is called “low-head hydropower”, which is generated from dams lower than about 16 feet or so.  Some of the Black Bear Hydro dams are low-head type and many others already exist. The great thing about water is that it flows downhill toward the ocean; we can capture its energy in more places if we put our efforts there.

Maine’s growing composites industry is set to build turbines for both hydroelectric dams and for tidal power generators.  This means jobs!

Do you have a site that you think might be appropriate for a small hydro dam, or for damless hydropower generation?  Do you know of an installation that would be well-replicated elsewhere in Maine? 

What about environmental concerns, such as whether dams prevent fish from reaching their spawning grounds?  Some biologists are now saying that Maine’s groundfishing industry could rebound if alewives could get further up our rivers in the spring, because alewives are a feedstock for cod, halibut, tuna and the like. How can we balance our appetite for hydropower with our appetite for halibut?

Green Energy Maine invites all Mainers with information about hydroelectric power to join in the conversation here.