On Monday, Maine showed the world how to advance economic and environmental interests at the same time with a comprehensive project that involved state, federal and tribal governments along with private power companies and nonprofit groups all working together.
It’s too bad our governor couldn’t be there.
A historic collaboration came to fruition with the start of demolition of the Great Works Dam, which has been impeding the free migration of sea-run fish for more than a century. The removal of the dam, along with the bypass or removal of two others, will open access to 1,000 miles of habitat for native fish like the endangered Atlantic salmon and short-nosed sturgeon.
The project will not only benefit the river ecosystem, but support life in the entire Gulf of Maine, providing food for lobsters, cod and other species.
Monday’s events were attended by dignitaries including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, but not Gov. LePage, who pointedly stayed away because he considers removing any dam to be “irresponsible.” Maine benefits from hydropower, the governor said in a recent interview, so it should not remove dams. “In fact, we ought to be putting more in,” he said.
Gov. LePage is right to be concerned about low-carbon, low-cost renewable energy, but he is wrong to assume that removing these dams will impede that goal. While two Penobscot dams will be removed and one bypassed, six more will be upgraded and remain in operation, so there will be no loss in power production.
Even the National Hydropower Association, an industry advocacy organization, doesn’t call for a building boom of new dams. A spokesman for the group cited the recent Department of Energy report that said there is more than 12 gigawatts of new hydropower that could be captured by upgrading existing dams, which would be a more affordable and ecologically sound approach to meeting the nation’s energy needs than building new dams.
Maine, with its centuries-old experience with the benefits as well as the costs of hydropower, is in a unique position to show how to best use its rivers. Combined with other renewable power sources such as tidal and wind — both offshore and inland — the state can be a worldwide leader in responsible use of its resources.
The governor tends to see public policy issues as a fight in which there are winners and losers, but the Penobscot River Restoration Project shows there are times when compromises can be mutually beneficial. Monday was a great day for Maine, and LePage should have been there.