Water is essential for the production of electricity and is critical for many of our processes, including cooling equipment. Although approximately 91% of AEP’s power generating capacity requires water, we return most of the water we use to its original source. Our coal and natural gas supply chains also rely on water to mine the coal and extract the natural gas. Water consumption occurs when it is lost to evaporation primarily due to process cooling and flue gas scrubbing.
As much as we need access to water, we also have a responsibility to manage this resource to minimize potential impacts and to reduce consumption. Our water withdrawal and consumption will continue to decrease as we continue to diversify our generating portfolio, retire fossil-fuel generation capacity and set incentive-based environmental compliance goals. The addition of wind and solar to our generation portfolio will also cause water intensity to decrease as these energy sources do not require any water input.
Since 2013, we have reduced our surface water use by nearly 45%. During that same timeframe, we have reduced our surface water consumption by 56%.
Water Use Reporting
Because we place a high value on the importance of transparency, we extensively report 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 annually disclose extensive water data in our ESG Data Center and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) report, and we participate annually in the CDP Water Survey.
Water Management in High-Risk Areas
The effects of drought and flooding conditions have the potential to significantly affect our operations. We operate several power plants in drought-prone regions of the country that require careful management of water use. We have comprehensive water conservation plans in place for the Pirkey, Welsh, Wilkes and Knox Lee Power Plants. In 2020, these plants conserved an estimated 900 million gallons of water, demonstrating the effectiveness of this management approach. In 2023, we will retire the Pirkey Plant, which will reduce our water consumption anywhere between an additional 9,400 to 11,170 million gallons per year.
In contrast to drought, heavy rain events also can disrupt the operation of our generation, transmission and distribution facilities located across AEP’s service territory. In response, we continue to search for solutions to mitigate the impacts of these events. For example, we are working diligently to find an acceptable solution to manage excess water at the Pirkey Plant, which due to lower generating needs, is not able to maintain its designed balance of water usage.
Another example involved the expansion of an existing make-up water storage pond at the Turk Plant during 2016. The plant was unable to use water of degraded quality from the Red and Little Rivers prior to flood events when water was released from upstream impoundments. The expanded storage pond now allows the plant to continue normal operations prior to and during flood events.
To help manage our watersheds, we participate in various voluntary efforts such as protecting the watershed of Caddo Lake; a Ramsar Convention designated wetland area and one of only 26 such sites in the United States. We also participate in the Illinois River Watershed Partnership. Recently, the AEP Foundation presented the Partnership with a $200,000 grant to support environmental education through 2021.
You can learn more about our responses to changing water conditions by referring to our Climate Impact Analysis Report.