Water is a critical input in the production of electricity. It is used in power plants to create steam, which is used to turn the turbines and generators that create electricity. It is also used for cooling purposes, as well as to transport bottom ash and, in some cases, fly ash. Water is also the source of hydroelectric power and provides transportation for our captive barge fleet, which operates on several rivers.
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. Plant retirements and sales during 2015 and 2016 have significantly reduced AEP’s water footprint with a net water use reduction of more than 2,400 million gallons/day (MGD), which represents a reduction of nearly 33 percent when compared with 2014 water withdrawals. We are also participating in industry research to find new ways to treat wastewater and reduce the use and consumption of water by power plants.
AEP places a high value on reporting our usage and management of water throughout our system. One way we do this is through voluntary reporting efforts. We participate annually in the Carbon Disclosure Project Water Survey. The 2016 questionnaire was issued on behalf of 643 investors representing $67 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 Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) Benchmarking Reports.
Water Quality Improvements
Under the authority of the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes wastewater discharge limits for new and existing steam electric power plants (coal, oil, gas and nuclear). On Nov. 3, 2015, the agency published revised steam electric power generating effluent guidelines in the Federal Register and set stricter performance standards that must be achieved at AEP coal-fired steam electric generating facilities. These requirements can be accessed on the EPA’s website.
The guidelines require 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 wet scrubber wastewater treatment systems. Upgrades and the installation of additional wastewater treatment systems will be required at most of AEP’s active coal-fueled facilities.
The limits are implemented through each facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater discharge permit, which is typically renewed on a five-year basis. AEP is in the process of evaluating many new technologies that can efficiently treat wastewaters to reduce the release of pollutants, and AEP is developing site-specific plans to achieve the new limits. The EPA recently granted a petition for reconsideration of certain requirements and issued an administrative stay of future compliance deadlines. AEP will work with the agency in its review of these regulations and provide updated information gathered during its evaluations.