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Sierra magazine
Innovate | Clean Power That's Easy on the Environment

By Myron Levin

As president of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust, Fred Ayer fights to remove dams along the fabled Maine river. But he spends most of his time running the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, which works to minimize the environmental impact of hydropower sites.

The institute, based in Portland, Maine, certifies existing hydro projects that avoid or reduce damage to water quality, stream flows, fisheries, threatened species, cultural resources, and recreational opportunities. The 10-year-old organization has certified 110 dams, mainly in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest; about 15 others are currently under review. Ayer, 62, is a Vermont native and self-described "short-timer in Maine," having arrived in 1969. He became the institute's executive director six years ago, after a peripatetic job history working as a guitar teacher, a draftsman, and a utility spokesperson.

Certain dams are run better than others, Ayer notes. "In some cases, the best solution is still going to be to remove it," he says. "But people ought to look at how we can make the best of existing infrastructure. Hopefully, we can add a large amount of electricity that will be low impact."

Infographic: Brian Kaas; source: U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Photo: Liza Schiltz

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