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Constellation CEO: Conowingo license renewal essential for Chesapeake Bay’s health | READER COMMENTARY

A 50-year license for the Conowingo Dam remains in dispute as environmentalists push for greater efforts to address pollutants flowing down the Susquehanna River and into the Chesapeake Bay. File. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun).

The recent court decision to vacate the license extension for Constellation’s Conowingo Dam has reignited debate over both the fate of the state’s largest source of renewable energy and the health of one of Maryland’s most important natural resources — the Chesapeake Bay (”Big opportunity at the Conowingo Dam,” Feb. 15).

No one who cares about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay should be celebrating this decision. If anything, it puts the bay at further risk by interfering with a landmark agreement with the state of Maryland that would result in Constellation spending $700 million on bay cleanup measures over the life of the license. That is more than any other entity has committed to helping the bay, and it came after years of thoughtful negotiations.


In many ways, it was also a powerful recognition of the dam’s benefits to the state. Rising above the Susquehanna River, the dam reliably produces more renewable energy than all other sources in the state combined. It’s enough to power 165,000 homes, preventing 867,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually — the equivalent of taking 170,000 cars off the road. The facility also provides wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for residents, helping support jobs and economic activity in the region.

Like many Marylanders, Constellation has long been concerned about water quality in the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay. Environmentalists acknowledge that the dam does not cause pollution and that for decades following its construction, it benefited bay water quality by trapping the sediment and debris that flows downstream from Pennsylvania and New York. If the dam never existed, all the sediment and trash flowing down river would reach the Chesapeake Bay uninhibited and our water quality problems would possibly be even more severe than they are today. The problem is that the basin behind the dam has reached capacity and the dam can no longer hold back the tide of sediment that flows past its gates during heavy storms. Much of the harmful nutrients choking the bay are the direct result of unchecked runoff coming from upstream farms, businesses and housing developments that line the Susquehanna River watershed.


This is not a problem the dam can solve alone, but Constellation is committed to doing its part. The agreement we reached with Maryland in 2019 will benefit fisheries, address debris accumulation, support aquatic vegetation and improve water quality, among other things. Importantly, it ensures the dam remains economically viable so it can continue providing clean energy and environmental benefits to the region.

The court’s recent decision threatens to undo this delicate balance. Opponents of the agreement acknowledge that they want the dam to continue operating because of the clean energy it provides. But they also argue that the dam should be responsible for decades of upstream pollution.

Undoubtedly, every business, farmer or homeowner who lives near and benefits from the Susquehanna River bears responsibility for its health and should contribute. Right now, that isn’t happening. Constellation has demonstrated repeatedly that it is willing to do more than its share, but no one entity can realistically be expected to trap and remove the pollution from a 27,500-square-mile watershed that is home to millions of people. The only fair and equitable solution is for all stakeholders to accept responsibility and work together on a comprehensive plan to solve the problem.

Advancing that aspiration was the purpose behind our agreement with the state of Maryland. Misguided efforts to undo it will put the dam’s continued operation at risk and delay efforts to help the bay. That benefits no one.

For now, our agreement remains in force while we work with state officials on a solution to preserve its benefits. We are committed to that effort, but until all parties in each of the affected states come together to address the true source of the problem, pollution will continue to flow through the gates of the Conowingo Dam, and the bay will suffer. Let’s focus on fixing that, rather than relitigating an agreement that should stand as a model for how public and private entities can work together to clean up the bay.

— Joe Dominguez, Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of Constellation Energy Corp.

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