Keene Mulls Historic Dam's Future After Hydropower Demo Plan Falls Through

Jul 23, 2018

The West Street Dam, circa 1975, via the Keene Public Library.
Credit Keene Public Library

A group of residents in Keene has scrapped plans to build a hydropower facility on an old dam near downtown.

The city will now go back to the drawing board on what to do with the derelict structure.  

The state told Keene in 2011 that the West Street Dam on the Ashuelot River needed to be repaired or removed.

That spelled opportunity for a group of locals, who formed a nonprofit to look at preserving the dam with a small hydropower demonstration project.

This month, after years of study and work with federal and state regulators, the nonprofit told Keene’s city council they were discontinuing the project – that it would require too much environmental mitigation, and they couldn’t be sure it would pay for itself.

“Although we have determined that the operation of a hydropower facility is not feasible, we continue to believe that the dam is an important historical asset for Keene that should be preserved,” wrote project director Kenneth Stewart in his letter to councilors.

Stewart declined further comment to NHPR.

The facility would likely have been far too small to benefit from a bill Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed this year, expanding the state's large-scale renewable energy net metering program.

City planning director Rhett Lamb says he’s disappointed by the failure of the hydro plan, which he saw as a good combination of renewable energy, education and historic preservation.

Now, he says the city will begin working through the tough choice of whether and how to restore or remove the dam.

Read the letter to the Keene mayor and council: