Maine has adopted a bold climate change strategy which has been embraced by the governor, the Legislature and the people.

At its core is to convert Maine’s energy consumption away from fossil-based fuels to renewable energy.  This change is crucial not just for environmental reason, but for economic reasons as well.  Limited supplies, the recent spikes in natural gas and oil prices and the disruptions caused by foreign wars have shown this time and time again.  Unless  Maine moves away from dependence on fossil fuel, Mainers will pay millions and millions of dollars in higher energy costs in the future.

However, every manner of producing energy will have an impact on the environment.  This is true for renewable energy: solar, wind, hydroelectric, tidal and thermal all have their own impacts on the environment.

The question then is how do we convert to a diverse base of renewal energy sources with the least negative environmental impact?

For centuries, Maine has been a source of good, clean hydroelectric power.  The major environmental impacts of creating these dams were felt centuries ago.  Today, we struggle with the environmental question of how do we keep the dams continuing to supply good, clean power to Mainers, which is a very positive result for our environment, while minimizing the potential negative ongoing impact on wildlife and fisheries.

This question is now playing out on the Kennebec River and its tributaries at Maine’s very own Shawmut Dam.


As always, practical, pragmatic Maine thinking provides us the answer.

New technology will allow up to 96 percent of fish to pass the Shawmut Dam through a fish ladder.

However, there are those that are saying this is not good enough, we must construct a system to allow 99 percent of the fish to pass.

To do so, would be economically impossible and require the closing of the Shawmut Dam.  Such a result would send us on a backward course in reaching our climate change goals.

It would also be bad environmental trade off.  The environmental improvement of a small number of fish included in that 3% difference, as few as 5 Atlantic Salmon per year by some counts, is vastly outweighed by the loss of a significant current source of clean renewable.

The controversy over the Shawmut Dam is high stakes not only because existing hydropower is important to Maine’s climate policy, but also because the dam’s impoundment is critical to the neighboring paper mill in Somerset. The removal of the dam could result in the closure of the mill and the loss of the more than 700 union jobs.

It is time for a practical, pragmatic Maine solution.  It is not a choice between the Shawmut Dam and the Atlantic Salmon.  It is a choice for both.  Adopt the 96 percent standard and keep the clean power.

— Special to the Press Herald

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