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.