Waste Management and Recycling
We manage many types of waste resulting from the process of providing electricity, operating office buildings, and repairing and replacing equipment. We continue to reduce and divert waste from landfills through beneficial reuse or recycling to minimize our environmental impacts caused by waste.
The amount of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-containing equipment used across the company continues to decline. PCBs, which are known to have adverse health effects, have not been used in new electrical equipment in the U.S. since 1979 but are present in some of our older transformers and other pieces of electric equipment. We removed and recycled approximately 46,500 pieces of electrical equipment in 2018, of which 1,400 contained PCBs at regulated levels.
While we had approximately 1,200 transmission and distribution equipment oil spills in 2018, only two of the spills contained greater than 500 parts per million (ppm) PCBs. Most spills are caused by severe weather and public vehicle accidents that damage the equipment. Regardless of the cause, we respond immediately to each spill to clean up the materials released, notify regulatory agencies where required, and restore areas to pre-spill conditions.
During 2018, the waste we recycled included approximately 382,000 pounds of paper and mixed office waste, 50.5 million pounds of scrap metal, 40,200 pounds of light bulbs, 216,000 pounds of batteries, and more than 234,000 pounds of electronic equipment, such as computers and phones. We also recycled nearly 400,500 gallons of used oil. These numbers are not all-inclusive but are considered a good representation of waste management across AEP and show progress in reducing waste.
AEP reports through the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program, part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). EPCRA requires companies with 10 or more employees, in certain industries, to collect and publicly disclose information about how they manufacture, process or use any of nearly 650 chemicals on a special list developed by the U.S. EPA. Read more on our TRI website.
- Coal Combustion Residuals
Coal ash disposal and handling came to the forefront nearly a decade ago and has since been subjected to a new federal rule covering the handling, disposal and storage of coal combustion residuals (CCR). Coal ash is AEP’s single largest waste stream.
CCRs are the solid material left over after coal is burned to generate electricity. For decades, many state environmental agencies regulated landfills and surface impoundments where CCRs are placed. In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established minimum federal rules for storage and disposal of these materials. These minimum requirements were designed to be self-implementing and enforced by the public.
In March 2018, EPA proposed revisions to the CCR rule in order to address provisions of the April 2015 final rule that were remanded back to EPA and to provide states with approved CCR permit programs the ability to set certain alternative performance standards. EPA has indicated its intent to complete additional rulemaking by the end of 2019.
- CCR Rule Implementation
AEP remains committed to handling coal ash disposal in a way that puts safety first while protecting the environment, minimizing impacts to the communities near our facilities and managing our customers’ costs.
AEP is in the midst of a multiyear plan to address the company’s use of coal ash disposal areas. Currently, AEP has responsibility for 31 CCR ponds and landfills that fall under the CCR Rule. We have posted a large number of documents, including structural stability assessments, initial closure plans and inspection reports on our public website. We have also posted on our website all monitoring data and reports required by this program, including groundwater monitoring reports, and location restrictions for all ponds and landfills covered by the CCR Rule.
In February 2019, we reported statistical data related to potential groundwater contamination for four of our power plants. Outreach was conducted with the surrounding communities as well as around another nine plants with regulated CCR units. In addition to informing the nearby residents, we offered to test the wells of neighbors who wished to have that peace of mind. We will continue to engage with our neighbors on these issues, sharing information on an ongoing basis and conducting public meetings to discuss management of our facilities. All of our reports and required documentation are available online at our dedicated CCR Rule Compliance site.
- Beneficial Reuse
CCRs have long been used in concrete, wallboard and a wide variety of construction materials. While this benefits other industries, it also provides a source of financial and environmental benefits to AEP. In February 2014, the EPA completed a risk evaluation of the beneficial uses of coal fly ash in concrete and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) material and gypsum in wallboard, and its conclusions support these beneficial uses. Coal ash and other residual products from AEP’s generating facilities are used in the production of concrete and wallboard, as structural fill or soil additives, as abrasives or road treatment materials and for other beneficial uses. By diverting the coal ash to beneficial uses, we are reducing the need for waste disposal sites.
In 2018, AEP generated more than 4.8 million tons of CCRs and was able to beneficially use more than 1.8 million tons, or nearly 38 percent of the total produced. Beneficial use of CCRs (considered to be products if they are beneficially used) avoided more than $28 million in disposal costs in 2018 and generated more than $11 million in revenues.
Nuclear Waste Management
The U.S. Department of Energy oversees permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and historically has charged fees to plant owners for this disposal. However, the government stopped developing the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada, leaving generators with no place for permanent disposal.
Like the rest of the nuclear industry, we face a significant future financial commitment to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. We need a national solution for the long-term disposal of spent nuclear fuel, which should be part of a national energy plan.
The uncertainty associated with long-term storage places the burden of interim storage on each nuclear facility. AEP is addressing this issue through dry cask storage on the assumption that a workable off-site solution will not exist before the current operating licenses for both Cook units expire in 2034 and 2037.
In 2012, AEP’s Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Bridgman, Michigan, began a program of loading spent nuclear fuel into dry casks. The latest loading campaign took place in 2018, bringing the total to 44 dry casks that have been loaded into storage. The casks are designed to withstand tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, sabotage, missiles, aircraft and temperature extremes. They are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and meet all applicable security, environmental and radiological requirements.
The current cask storage facility is designed to store 94 casks for a total of 3,008 spent nuclear fuel assemblies. This would support the operation of both units through the current operating license dates of 2034 for Unit 1 and 2037 for Unit 2. The pad could be expanded to facilitate removal of all fuel assemblies from the plant’s spent fuel pool and full decommissioning of both units.
Nuclear plant operators are required to maintain a plant decommissioning trust fund to safely decommission and decontaminate the plant upon closure. At the end of 2018, the trust fund balance for the Cook Plant was approximately $2.2 billion.