MDE Prepared To Deny Key Conowingo Permit

The Maryland Department of Environment has announced its intention to deny key permits to Exelon, the corporate owner of the Conowingo Dam at the northern head of the Chesapeake Bay. A January 7 hearing has been scheduled prior to a final decision.

From coverage in the Daily Record (limited free access):

Saying there’s not enough information on the dam’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay, the state Department of the Environment has declared its intent to deny Exelon certification that the hydroelectric facility on the lower Susquehanna River meets state and federal water quality standards.

The department issued a statement saying it has not made a final determination, and is seeking public comment, either in writing or at a Jan. 7 hearing.

The immediate effect of this potential denial is unclear, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also reviewing the potential re-licensing of the Dam facility for another 40 year period. From the Baltimore Sun coverage:

The state agency’s move has no imminent effect, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given Exelon a one-year extension of its current license to operate Conowingo, which produces 500 megawatts of electricity. The company had applied last January for state water-quality approval while it still was hoping to gain a long-term renewal of its license. Under federal law, Maryland must act on the application within a year or lose its say in relicensing the facility. That deadline falls on Jan. 31, 2015.

In seeking to renew its license, Exelon has been negotiating with federal and state officials over their concerns about the dam’s impact on water quality and on migration of shad and eels up the river. Details of those talks are not public.

But the company has agreed to pay up to $3.5 million for enhanced water-quality monitoring over the next two years.

Exelon can reapply for state approval, said MDE spokesman Jay Apperson. Officials anticipate that will happen once the additional study is finished, he said.

“We expect to continue this dialogue as we work together to assure the state standards on water quality are met,” said Exelon Generation spokesman Robert Judge.

If after further study, state regulators decide the dam is undermining water quality, Exelon could be required to mitigate the impacts, either by changing how it operates the facility or by making offsetting pollution reductions elsewhere in the river’s drainage area, according to Apperson.

For more of MACo’s coverage of this issue, see previous Conduit Street articles on the Conowingo Dam.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties