Water is a critical input in the production of electricity. It is used in power plant boilers as well as for cooling, cleaning and in some cases, to transport fly ash and bottom ash. Water is also the source of hydroelectric power and provides transportation for our captive barge fleet to operate on several rivers.
Water quality, availability, use and management are increasingly important sustainability issues for society and our company. We are taking steps to reduce our water consumption, improve water quality and address water availability issues as we comply with current regulations and prepare for new ones. Plant retirements during 2015 have significantly reduced AEP’s water footprint with a net water use reduction of 1,316 million gallons/day (MGD)], which represents a reduction of 18 percent when compared to 2014 water withdrawal. We are also participating in industry research to find new ways to treat waste-water and reduce the use and consumption of water by power plants.
AEP places a high value on reporting our usage and management of water throughout our system. One way we do this is through voluntary reporting efforts. We participate annually in the Carbon Disclosure Project Water Survey. The 2015 questionnaire was issued on behalf of 617 investors representing $63 trillion in assets who seek business-critical information about water consumption and water use strategy and planning. In addition, AEP provides extensive water data in our Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) report.
Water Quality Improvements
Under the authority of the Clean Water Act, the EPA establishes wastewater discharge limits for new and existing steam electric power plants (coal, oil, gas and nuclear). On Nov. 3, 2015, the agency published revised steam electric power generating effluent guidelines in the Federal Register and set stricter performance standards that must be achieved at AEP coal-fired steam electric generating facilities. The new requirements can be accessed at EPA link.
The new guidelines will require that AEP install technologies to eliminate the discharge of fly ash and bottom ash transport waters and to limit the discharge of pollutants from wet scrubber wastewater treatment systems. Upgrades and the installation of additional wastewater treatment systems will be required at most of AEP’s active coal-fueled facilities.
The new limits will be implemented through each facility’s NPDES wastewater discharge permit, which is typically renewed on a five-year basis. AEP is in the process of evaluating many new technologies that can efficiently treat waste-waters and reduce the release of pollutants.
Water Research Center
AEP is one of 14 companies that have joined the Electric Power Research Institute and the Southern Research Institute to establish a first-of-a-kind research facility that addresses power plants’ water usage and treatment. The Water Research Center at Georgia Power Company’s Plant Bowen focuses on finding new ways to manage and treat wastewater and to reduce and conserve water used in the production of electricity.
Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Project
AEP began working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and other partners on a market-based approach to improve Ohio River water quality. We were one of the first utilities in the nation to take part in the world’s largest interstate water quality trading plan. Representatives from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky pledged their support to the plan in 2012, and the first trades took place in March 2014, culminating a five-year effort. By the end of 2015, AEP’s purchase of stewardship credits reduced nutrient loading to the river by 5,000 pounds.
Due to new effluent limits for nutrients, such as nitrate-nitrite, AEP has no plans to use the trading program for compliance purposes; however, this important program can still provide a benefit, especially from an environmental sustainability perspective. For example, AEP has provided farmers with a gypsum-like material to line their cattle holding areas. If this is done and the farmers manage their manure, under the trading program, AEP can receive credit for keeping nutrients out of the local streams.
Through leases, AEP can require farmers to manage their fertilizer use, generating additional nutrient credits, and also reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide, which are closely related to fertilizer use. Through other management practices, not only are there nutrient reduction benefits, but ancillary benefits, such as carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, soil runoff control and the creation of pollinator habitat.
The program is good for farmers, the environment and the participating companies. In 2015, the program was awarded the U.S. Alliance – United States Water Prize. AEP has a large presence on the river and it is important to protect this valuable natural resource.