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AEP plans to add more solar, wind, spend $15 billion over next three years


American Electric Power, perhaps the quintessential coal-burning utility in the US, could look far different in 2034, as the it plans to add more than 8,000 MW of renewables and another 3,400 MW of natural gas-fired generation over the next two decades, the Columbus, Ohio-based company said in its newly released corporate accountability report.

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The report, for 2016, is the company's attempt to retrace prior initiatives and provide a road map to the future.

Over the next three years, the company plans to invest $15 billion -- $5 billion each year -- in core operations, including electricity transmission. AEP owns 40,000 miles of transmission lines and another 240,000 miles of distribution lines in the 11 states it operates.

Although no major transmission projects currently are envisaged in the next few years, billions of dollars are expected to be spent on "a lot of upgrading existing lines, investment and replacement," AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said Wednesday in an interview.

Article Continues below...

But the generation side is probably where most of the most obvious changes are expected to occur.

At present, the company controls about 32,000 MW of generation, of which roughly 18,000 MW is coal-fired. Since 2001, AEP has retired more than 7,200 MW of coal-fired generation in several states, primarily to comply with new Environmental Protection Agency rules. In April alone, it shut nearly 1,000 MW of coal generation, including 528 MW at its Welsh plant in Texas and 467 MW at Unit 4 of its Northeastern plant in Oklahoma.

McHenry said no additional coal retirements are planned for at least the next couple years and some of its baseload coal plants are destined to run far into the future.

In Indiana, for instance, AEP's Indiana Michigan Power subsidiary is investing more than $2 billion in pollution controls at its 2,600 MW Rockport coal plant, which was built in the early 1980s.

But the company also will be adding lots more solar, wind and gas generation, especially starting in the early 2020s as it seeks to further reduce its carbon footprint. Since 2000, AEP said it has slashed carbon dioxide emissions 39%.

AEP, in all, intends to add 2,583 MW of solar and 5,800 MW of wind energy by 2034. Virtually every year, it plans to add wind energy. Except for 2019, the same is true for solar energy.

Also planned are gas generation additions of 825 MW in 2022, 435 MW in 2023, 853 MW in 2026, 437 MW in 2027, 435 MW in 2031 and 417 MW in 2033.

AEP is in the process of converting 752 MW of existing coal generation to natural gas. Its conversion at 260 MW Unit 1 of its Big Sandy baseload plant near Louisa, Kentucky, is expected to be completed by year's end, McHenry said. Big Sandy's largest coal unit, the 800 MW Unit 2, has been retired.

Coal-to-gas conversion also is taking place at the Clinch River plant in West Virginia.

--Bob Matyi,
--Edited by Valarie Jackson,