Water is essential for the production of electricity. Currently, 91% of power generated by AEP requires water. Water is the fuel in our hydroelectric turbines and the steam electric process to produce steam and cool equipment, and is also used to scrub flue gas and transport combustion residuals. We return most of the water we use to its original source. Water consumption occurs when some of it is lost to evaporation or to a process, such as flue gas scrubbing, where it is released as water vapor. Our coal and natural gas supply chains rely on water to mine the coal and extract the natural gas.
Since 2014, we have reduced our water use from 7,382 million gallons/day (MGD) to 3,980 MGD – a reduction of nearly 46%. During that same timeframe, we also reduced our water consumption by almost 46% from 223 MGD to 121 MGD.
We participate in collaborative industry water “footprint” research to find new ways to reduce the use and consumption of water by power plants. A water “footprint” is the amount of water used in the production of the goods or services by a business – for example, the amount of water needed to make a pair of jeans or to produce a kilowatt of electricity. We are working with EPRI to test the application of a water footprint tool. This analysis will help us better understand how we use water resources, which will support better water management, reporting, benchmarking and disclosure activities at AEP’s generation facilities.
Water Use Reporting
Because we place a high value on the importance of transparency, AEP extensively reports on our usage and management of water throughout our system in different forums. We do this through both required reporting, such as the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and through voluntary reporting efforts. For example, we participate annually in the CDP Water Survey and provide extensive water data in our Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) report.
Water Management in High-Risk Areas
AEP operates several power plants in drought-prone regions of the country that require careful management of water use. Since 1999, the Texas Commission on Environmental Control has mandated that all Texas water rights holders implement a water conservation plan. The plan must include voluntary, site-specific five-year and ten-year water conservation goals, as well as cost-effective solutions to ensure adequate water supply for all users in their regions. We update these plans every five years. In addition, we file annual updates with the Texas Water Development Board. We have comprehensive water conservation plans in place for the Oklaunion, Pirkey, Welsh, Wilkes and Knox Lee Power Plants. In 2019, the plants conserved an estimated 812 million gallons through these plans, demonstrating the effectiveness of this management approach.
In addition, we have a Drought Contingency Plan for the Knox Lee Plant and must comply with Drought Contingency Plans for three water providers who supply water to operate the plant.
AEP serves on the Texas Water Conservation Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to the state legislature every two years regarding the status of water conservation in Texas. We also support the Northeast Texas Regional Water Planning group.
Water is important to power production, but it is also essential for agriculture, drinking water and economic growth. In addition to planning for water needs, the states of Texas and Arkansas have initiatives to protect watersheds, and AEP participates in those. For example, in Texas, AEP participates in a state-mandated effort to quantify necessary environmental flows for streams and rivers. Environmental flows are the properties of water flow that strengthen or support aquatic ecosystems and human livelihood.
In addition, AEP participates in voluntary efforts to protect the watershed of Caddo Lake, a Ramsar Convention designated wetland area. The Caddo Lake Ramsar wetlands is one of only 26 such sites in the United States. In Arkansas, AEP remains involved in the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, which has increased its efforts to plant trees and bushes to stabilize riverbanks. Recently, the AEP Foundation presented the Partnership with a $200,000 grant to support environmental education through 2021. In 2020, AEP joined EPRI’s Ohio River Interest Group. This will enable AEP to remain informed about Ohio River issues, such as invasive species, algal blooms, fish passage and endangered species management.