It is challenging to practice environmental stewardship while providing electricity at affordable rates. AEP is meeting this challenge in several ways. For example, efforts are under way to implement vegetation management practices on our transmission rights-of-way (ROW) and steam electric sites to support wildlife, while at the same time, meeting all North American Electric Reliability Corporation requirements and other regulatory requirements.
A 10-acre demonstration site is being developed near our new transmission office in New Albany, Ohio, and will feature NERC-compatible vegetation.
A collaborative research project is being developed with the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, to assess the feasibility of economically incorporating native plants and pollinator habitat into right-of-way (ROW) sites through prairie establishment. Study plots will be established with native and non-native vegetation and monitored for erosion control, drought resistance, tree inhibition and wildlife promotion. In addition, a 10-acre demonstration site is being developed near our new transmission office in New Albany, Ohio, and will feature North American Electric Reliability Corporate (NERC)-compatible vegetation that is supportive of pollinators, birds, turkey, deer and other wildlife.
We are also establishing many acres of wildlife habitat during ash pond closures at the Big Sandy Plant in Louisa, Ky. This project involves securing the existing coal ash in place with a protective liner and then covering with soil and vegetation. The vegetation “cap” will encompass approximately 150 acres and will include different seed mixes based on location, function and topography. Similar work has been done at our Flint Creek Plant in Arkansas. The seed mixes include both native and pollinator species that are more resistant to drought. Although these seed mixes are more expensive, the vast acreage involved and the associated positive environmental benefits far outweigh the cost.
Three major federal laws protect native North American plants and animals: the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The ESA provides federal protection for more than 1,300 species while the MBTA provides federal protection for more than 1,000 native bird species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is the primary federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing these laws as they pertain to AEP. Violations of these laws can result in severe penalties, both civil and criminal.
As we build new and maintain existing infrastructure across our service territory, such as transmission or renewable generation facilities, we are mindful of potential impacts we might have to protected species, and we take the necessary regulatory and voluntary steps to ensure their protection. For example, AEP has voluntarily developed, and is implementing, an Avian Protection Plan to minimize and mitigate potential impacts to raptors and eagles. AEP has also developed, or is in the process of developing, Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) to protect species such as the American burying beetle and the Indiana bat while still moving projects forward in a lawful manner.
For example, AEP obtained a project specific “incidental take” permit for the beetle from the FWS Albuquerque regional office based on a low-effect HCP. This was one of the first low-effect HCPs considered by that office. We continue to develop programmatic HCPs for these species that would cover multiple projects over a multiyear period. AEP is committed to working with the FWS and other wildlife agencies on conservation and habitat preservation to minimize and mitigate potential impacts to protected species. AEP provides information about how we manage these and other issues through our participation in business and environmental disclosure surveys, such as the Global Reporting Initiative.