AEP Sustainability - Biodiversity

Biodiversity & Wildlife Protection

As we build and maintain new and existing infrastructure across our service territory, such as transmission or renewable generation facilities, we are mindful of the potential impacts we may have on wildlife and ecosystems. This includes species protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. We remain committed to following all federal, state and local environmental regulations and practicing environmental stewardship where possible when siting, constructing and operating our assets. For example, this includes adherence to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) voluntary Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines.

We value and practice environmental stewardship and conservation across our service territory. Whether through reclaiming former industrial land for outdoor recreation such as nature trails and campsites or integrating conservation measures into new and rebuilt transmission lines, we take steps to preserve the natural ecosystem as we grow our business.

Avian Protection

For more than 50 years, the utility industry, conservation groups, wildlife resource agencies and others have collaborated to understand why and how birds collide with, or are electrocuted by, power lines. To reduce avian mortality and decrease bird-related power outages, we voluntarily adopted a company-specific Avian Protection Plan to mitigate the risks associated with bird interactions at our facilities.

It is important for our operations and our customers that we account for avian protection when we design and engineer new facilities and upgrade existing facilities. For example, we have installed laser technology at some substations to discourage birds from flying into switches and transformers or nesting in the equipment. This technology may also be used at other substations where adjacent land use encourages avian activity.

AEP manages interactions between birds and power lines through a system-wide plan across our 11-state regulated service territory. Our primary challenge continues to be larger species, which are more likely to be electrocuted in substations and on poles or to collide with towers and lines.

The Plan has several key components:

  • Employee training and compliance
    Educate and train employees on compliance requirements and methods for preventing bird collisions and electrocutions.
  • Construction design standards and mortality reduction measures
    Design new lines and facilities with bird safety in mind.
  • Nest management and avian enhancement options
    Adopt the use of safety tactics to keep birds away from wires, such as installing a de-energized pole for bird nesting.
  • Avian reporting systems and risk assessment methodologies
    Continuously improve our monitoring and reporting capabilities.
  • Public education
    Promote the need for migratory bird and habitat conservation, working cooperatively with federal and state agencies and nonprofits.

As renewable energy continues to grow, we remain engaged with organizations such as the Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute’s, previously known as American Wind and Wildlife Institute, National Wind Wildlife Research Plan and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which are conducting research on wildlife interactions with renewable energy facilities.

In 2021, the AEP Foundation awarded a $3,000 grant to the Northsong Wild Bird Rehabilitation a nonprofit located in Northwestern Arkansas devoted to treating injured wild birds.

Habitat Conservation Plans

Our grid modernization efforts require balancing business needs with environmental protection. With the magnitude of our construction activities, it is conceivable that we will encounter, or potentially have an impact on, a range of species. One way we are addressing this is by working with the USFWS to establish Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs). HCPs are important because they not only protect the covered species but also generate cost and time savings for AEP and our customers.

In August 2021, AEP was awarded a federal grant from the USFWS Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund to support the development of a multi-species HCP that will apply to our entire transmission system for 30 years. If approved, the HCP will enable transmission construction activities that could impact listed species, such as the Indiana bat, to proceed without case-by-case agency consultation, if the practices and mitigation methods described in the plan are followed.

This HCP is notably the largest effort of its kind to date that focuses on industry best practices and defines actions needed to fulfill the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. We are also working closely with wildlife protection agencies in each of our states to ensure the HCP is consistent with their goals and regulations and covers the species affected by our work. This is similar to the work we have done to implement an approved HCP to protect the American burying beetle, which occurs in portions of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Habitat Conservation Plans protect threatened species, including the American burying beetle, an insect with habitats across several states in our service territory.

Right-of-Way Conservation Research

AEP’s extensive transmission and distribution network spans thousands of miles throughout our 11-state service territory. With this comes the responsibility to maintain and manage these assets as well as reduce environmental impacts. This includes complying with federal, state and local regulations to restore all vegetation disturbed by construction activities.

Restoration efforts include site grading, soil preparation and seeding, which typically involves seeding with a turf grass mix to achieve erosion and sediment control as quickly as possible. However, inappropriate seed mixes, site conditions, or weather can make it difficult for vegetation to properly germinate. Revising these seed mixes to better adapt to their environment can improve performance and achieve long-term savings in the restoration and maintenance of vegetation. For example, dense, regionally appropriate native herbaceous vegetation can potentially provide better erosion control, improve drought tolerance and inhibit tree establishment.

AEP has been testing the feasibility of using native seed mixes through research and site demonstrations for several years now. This includes our partnership with the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, to support research on the use of native vegetation on utility right-of-way (ROW) sites to support wildlife, biodiversity and sustainability. The pilot research study demonstrates the feasibility of economically incorporating native plants and pollinator habitats into ROWs through prairie establishment. The Dawes Arboretum project replicates a post-construction restoration scenario and uses a native prairie seed mix to meet these requirements.

Researchers are documenting rich biodiversity and monitoring habitat quality, erosion control and succession of prairie development. Rare species, such as the American Bumble Bee and the Wood Thrush, a priority watch list bird, have also been documented at the research site. The study has found that the native seeding approach is suitable for use in transmission ROW sites when appropriate plant species are selected. Due to this innovative approach, AEP received an EPRI Technology Transfer Award for Integrated Vegetation Management.

Complementing the Dawes Arboretum study, seed mixes have been tested at sites in Ohio, Oklahoma and West Virginia and are being monitored for germination success, erosion prevention and stability, species development and drought tolerance. The seed mixes were developed according to regional needs, as well as compliance with restoration requirements. The study affords an opportunity to understand and learn about the feasibility of long-range use of native seed mixes on future construction projects. The results to date indicate the regional seed mixes were successful and complied with local storm water regulations for site stability and vegetation coverage.

We are also exploring the use of native seed mixes at the AEP Transmission headquarters in New Albany, Ohio. After three years of planning, ROW vegetation demonstration plots have been seeded and are now fully established, covering a total of eight acres. The seed mixes were developed with help from local conservation organizations, such as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Audubon Society, National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever. The various mixes are designed to support birds, pollinators, deer and turkey. In the future, we plan to host demonstrations for school groups, NGOs and other organizations.

Pollinator Initiatives

Pollinators provide vital support to our natural ecosystems, including food production. A report by EPRI notes that globally, pollinators are in decline, with some scientists estimating that 40% of pollinator species may be at risk of extinction in the coming decades. At AEP, we are taking multiple measures to protect pollinators and promote their well-being. This includes participating in EPRI’s Power in Pollinators Program to research ways that electric utilities can support pollinator habitats and raise public awareness of their importance to society.

Building Pollinator Awareness

Our work to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators extends to our employees and communities. Each year, we organize an annual Pollinator Week in concert with peer utilities across the country. Through social media and other interactive communications, we share information about the role of pollinators in plant fertilization and AEP’s efforts to facilitate pollinator population growth through vegetation management.

During the 2021 pollinator week, AEP hosted virtual events including an employee webinar with over 130 participants that focused on the value of drawing beneficial insects to gardens as a form of pest control. AEP was also invited to host a spotlight session during the EPRI Pollinator Power Party where we shared our pollinator efforts across our service territory and followed with an interactive Q&A session featuring AEP’s Environmental services team and AEP employees doubling as beekeepers.

Protecting the Monarch Butterfly

AEP joined a conservation initiative with the USFWS to develop a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). A CCAA is a formal agreement between the USFWS and one or more parties to address the conservation needs of a candidate species before the species becomes listed as endangered or threatened. Property managers voluntarily commit to conservation actions that will help stabilize or restore the species and possibly avoid a listing. AEP continues to coordinate with the University of Illinois-Chicago, as well as other power companies, oil and gas companies and state departments of transportation on the development of the collaborative monarch CCAA, which was finalized in April 2020.

Overall, our efforts to implement pollinator-friendly projects on managed lands demonstrate the significant role electric power companies can play in boosting pollinator habitats nationwide. These efforts also add to our knowledge of the feasibility and compatibility of supporting natural ecosystems on our property and within our ROWs.

Wetland and Stream Habitats

Construction activities can also affect wetland and stream habitats. We make every effort to avoid such impacts when facilities are sited. However, when impacts cannot be avoided, we minimize and mitigate by enhancing or protecting ecological resources of greater or equal value. Mitigation is a priority for AEP, and we are committed to ensuring long-term success. Our mitigation efforts are overseen by regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through the Section 404 permitting program.

Environmental Stewardship Recognition

In 2020, our environmental stewardship efforts at the Flint Creek Power Plant in Gentry, Arkansas, received a silver Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) Conservation Certification. This designation recognizes the plant’s habitat enhancement programs, including tallgrass prairie restoration, nesting boxes and other bird habitat improvement, pollinator garden landscapes, restoration of native plant species and environmental awareness education. The Flint Creek Power Plant has approximately 700 acres designated as wildlife habitat and is home to the 65-acre Eagle Watch Nature Trail, which includes a half-mile walking trail and wildlife-viewing pavilions, all open to the public. Flint Creek recently donated 966 tree pots to the Watershed Conservation Resource Center for growing seedlings that will ultimately be planted along stream banks for stabilization and ecological improvements. In the near future, we plan to increase the number of wildlife viewing structures at the Flint Creek Eagle Watch.

Flint Creek has held certification under the WHC’s Corporate Lands for Learning and Wildlife at Work programs since 2004 and 2002, respectively, and since 2016 when the two programs were combined into the Conservation Certification. Our most recent certification extends through December 2022, which is indicative of the decades of dedication and commitment to environmental stewardship by the Flint Creek team.

A Life Dedicated to Environmental Stewardship

The late Terry Stanfill, a retired SWEPCO employee and the driving force behind the development and management of the Eagle Watch Nature Trail, was honored during the annual Earth Day Celebration in April 2022. To honor his memory and dedication to Eagle Watch, the trail’s main pavilion was named the “Terry Stanfill Pavilion.” Stanfill, a plant chemist who retired in 2010 from Flint Creek, continued to manage Eagle Watch Nature Trail after his retirement, including annual Earth Day events at the site. This year during the celebration, he was remembered for his quiet work, ensuring wildlife had a safe habitat and the public had a place to learn and connect with the outdoors. Stanfill’s work earned Eagle Watch Nature Trail national recognition for environmental stewardship.

A permanent plaque at Eagle Watch Nature Trail to honor the late Terry Stanfill, a retired Flint Creek employee.