Waste Water Management
Under the authority of the Clean Water Act, the EPA establishes wastewater discharge limits for new and existing power plants that use steam to generate electricity from various fuel sources (coal, oil, gas and nuclear). In November 2015, the agency revised these national effluent guidelines and set stricter performance standards that must be achieved at AEP’s coal-fired steam electric generating facilities.
We are continuing to take 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.
These new guidelines required that AEP install technologies to eliminate the discharge of fly ash and bottom ash transport waters and to further limit the discharge of pollutants from wastewater treatment systems associated with flue gas desulfurization (FGD) scrubbers. Upgrades and the installation of additional wastewater treatment systems would be required at most of AEP’s active coal-fueled facilities.
The rule was challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals, and, in March 2017, the electric industry filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the rule with EPA. In April 2017, EPA issued a stay of the rule’s compliance deadlines and granted reconsideration of several aspects of the rule. In September 2017, EPA finalized a rulemaking that postponed the compliance dates for FGD wastewater and bottom ash transport water (BATW) discharges. The earliest compliance date for these waste streams is now November 1, 2020, rather than November 1, 2018. The agency also decided not to postpone the compliance deadlines for fly ash transport water discharges, which remain as soon as possible after November 1, 2018, but no later than December 31, 2023. EPA will initiate a new rulemaking to address the FGD and BATW discharges, which it expects to finalize in 2020. We continue to work with the agency and utility industry groups to help secure reasonable revisions to the guidelines.
Water is a critical input for producing electricity, as power plants use water to generate electricity, cool equipment, scrub flue gas and transport combustion byproducts. Hydroelectric power is completely derived from the kinetic energy of flowing water. Our barge fleet operates on several rivers and relies on consistent water levels to maintain operations, delivering fuel and other supplies to our generating facilities.
As much as we need access to water, we also have a responsibility to manage this resource to mitigate our impacts as well as reduce consumption where we can. As AEP continues to diversify its generating portfolio and retire coal generation capacity, our use of water will continue to decrease.
Water quality, availability, use and management are increasingly important sustainability issues for society and our company. We are continuing to take 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. Because this issue is so important to AEP, we are evaluating a new sustainability goal to address our water consumption.
We have already significantly reduced our water footprint through plant retirements. Since 2013, we have reduced our water use from 7,349 million gallons/day (MGD) to 4,915 MGD – a reduction of nearly 33 percent. During that same time period, we have reduced our water consumption by almost 50 percent from 315 MGD to 158 MGD. The water that we use is generally returned to the original water source after being withdrawn. Water consumption occurs when some of the water is lost to evaporation or a water-consumptive process, such as flue gas scrubbing.
We participated in an industry research project to find new ways to treat wastewater and reduce the use and consumption of water by power plants. In early 2017, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) completed assessments on water withdrawal and consumption at three of AEP’s western plants: the Comanche Power Station, the Oklaunion Power Plant and the Pirkey Power Plant. In these studies, EPRI assessed the sourcing of water, water availability in the region, and water conservation efforts by AEP.
Overall, EPRI’s results were positive - highlighting various water conservation initiatives implemented by AEP, including a water conservation opportunity between AEP and the City of Lawton. The AEP-owned Comanche Power Station is located in the City of Lawton, Oklahoma, which lacks an adequate supply of local freshwater for the plant. The Comanche Station developed a relationship with Lawton’s Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW), which provided reclaimed municipal wastewater for the plant to use. Comanche opened in 1973 and has been using reclaimed municipal effluent for operations ever since, making it an early adopter of alternative water supply practices. This exchange resulted in cost savings for AEP (compared to the cost of securing regional surface water) and a source of revenue for the POTW for what was otherwise a wastewater discharge.
Because we place a high value on the importance of transparency, AEP reports on our usage and management of water throughout our system extensively in different forums. One way we do this is through required reporting, such as the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and through other voluntary reporting efforts. For example, we participate annually in the CDP Water Survey. The 2017 questionnaire was issued on behalf of 639 investors representing $69 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 and EPRI Benchmarking Reports.
AEP also values and encourages water conservation and education efforts within our local communities. In October 2017, the AEP Foundation awarded $300,000 in grants to the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University for environmental programs, $50,000 of which was designated for a watershed education and research program. Funding for this program will enhance a watershed education website for teachers, which will feature teachers’ lessons plans, 360-degree images of streams and wetlands, and instructional videos on watersheds. While these resources are educational in nature, they are intended to foster students’ awareness and appreciation of ecosystems, specifically with respect to the interconnectivity of watersheds.