Waste Management and Recycling
We manage many types of waste resulting from the process of providing electricity, operating office buildings, construction, 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, 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 41,500 pieces of electrical equipment in 2019, and more than 1,000 of those contained PCBs at regulated levels.
While we had approximately 1,400 transmission and distribution equipment oil spills in 2019, only two of the spills contained greater than 500 parts per million (ppm) PCBs. Most spills occur due to severe weather events and public vehicle accidents that damage our equipment. Regardless of the cause, we respond immediately to each spill, clean it up, notify regulatory agencies where required and restore affected areas to pre-spill conditions.
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 and flue gas desulfurization material handling and disposal continues to be at the forefront of evolving federal and state rulemaking focused on the handling, storage and disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR). CCRs are the solid material left over from the use of coal to generate electricity and represents AEP’s single largest waste stream.
Read more about AEP’s response to the Coal Combustion Residual Rule and Clean Water Act in our 10-K.
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. 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. This includes following proper closure methods or installing new equipment to handle bottom ash.
Learn more about AEP’s coal ash management efforts at our dedicated CCR Rule Compliance website.
In 2019, AEP received an EPRI Technology Transfer Award for our work on the Geotechnical Stability of Coal Ash Ponds During and After Closure project. The project utilized a new approach to simulate what could occur following a pond failure. This groundbreaking work will help us understand the stability of ponds as they age.
- Beneficial Reuse
CCRs have long been approved for use 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. By diverting CCRs to beneficial uses, we are reducing the need for waste disposal sites.
In 2019, AEP generated more than 4.1 million tons of CCRs and was able to beneficially use more than 1.5 million tons, or nearly 39% of the total produced. Beneficial use of CCRs (considered to be products if they are beneficially used) avoided more than $21 million in disposal costs in 2019 and generated more than $13 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, following the government’s decision to cease development of the Yucca Mountain storage facility in Nevada, nuclear generators no longer have a 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 Donald C. Cook nuclear units expire in 2034 and 2037.
In 2012, the Cook 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 next loading campaign will occur in 2021. The casks can withstand tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, sabotage, missiles, aircraft and temperature extremes. Licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the casks meet all applicable security, environmental and radiological requirements.
The current cask storage facility can store 94 casks, or 3,008 spent nuclear fuel assemblies. This would support the operation of both units through their current operating licenses. Expansion of the pad is possible 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 2019, the trust fund balance for the Cook Plant was approximately $2.7 billion.