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EN14 EUSS Strategies, current actions, and future plans for managing impacts on biodiversity.

EU14    Report the impacts (including fragmentation and isolation), develop mitigation measures, and monitor residual effects at new sites and existing sites on the following: 

  • Forested areas (e.g., alterations to tree crown density);
  • Loss of indigenous species;
  • Landscape (e.g., impacts of wind farms, transmission lines); and
  • Marine freshwater and wetland ecosystems (e.g., downstream water quality including turbidity, sedimentation, siltation and water quality of reservoir and other water bodies).


Assessment and mitigation should consider conservation plans for indigenous species, alterations in the migration, breeding, or habitat of animals (e.g., fish passage) from the
reporting organization’s infrastructure (e.g., power lines and dams).

[These sections describe the ongoing actions and future plans for minimizing biodiversity impacts, including strategies for avoiding biodiversity impacts.  It also includes a description of the impacts (which are actually in section EN12) and mitigation measures conducted at new sites and existing sites to the following: landscapes (wind farms, transmission lines), and freshwater (downstream water quality, including turbidity, sedimentation, siltation and water quality of reservoir areas) and wetland ecosystems.  Examples include sustained forestry, ROW corridor management, wetland mitigation, and site assessments prior to construction.]

Systemwide, AEP owns approximately 365,000 acres of land, which includes power plant sites, office buildings, substations, transmission and distribution lines, coal fields, river access and other sites.  Of these holdings, roughly 79,000 acres are adjacent to protected areas or areas of high biodiversity, such as wetlands, National Parks or areas that support threatened or endangered species.  The company also maintains at least 73 miles of transmission and distribution lines that cross National Forest lands.  As a result, AEP has the opportunity to significantly impact, as well as to protect and conserve, biodiversity.

Many biodiversity impacts are clearly evident.  Construction activity, such as clearing vegetation and moving earth to build new facilities, totally removes or drastically decreases onsite biodiversity.  Siting transmission line corridors can also affect biodiversity, through habitat fragmentation and alteration.  The construction of power plants, pollution control equipment and associated landfills results in the loss of wetland and riparian habitat.  Hydroelectric generation can alter stream and wetland areas through inundation and flow alterations, can block the movement of fish, such as Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, and can change the quality of the water.  Fish passing over or through hydroelectric projects can be injured by impacts on turbine blades, by rapid pressure changes, or by abrasion on rough structures.  Transmission lines and related structures can create collision hazards for birds and the transmission corridors themselves fragment the habitat, preventing the movement of animals from one site to another.  Wind turbines can also create collision hazards for birds. 

Management of biodiversity includes those activities that are done to maintain or improve the diversity of the biological communities or species on a property.  Examples include removing trees to protect endangered flowers, stocking fish to maintain certain species, controlling exotic animal introductions or conducting controlled burns on prairie lands. Special management areas may need to be established to meet the habitat requirements of a sensitive species.  Oftentimes, more practical applications of property management, such as fencing and visitor control, must be implemented.  Natural areas are expected to maintain their biodiversity for many years and the long-term expenses of management can easily exceed the costs of establishing the areas in the first place. 

AEP strives to minimize ecological impacts and, in general, approaches biodiversity management by protecting it, restoring it, or enhancing it.  AEP restores or mitigates, according to regulatory requirements, any wetland or riparian habitats that must be replaced through compensatory mitigation.  AEP also works on a voluntary basis with various community groups, conservation organizations and environmental agencies to preserve, restore and enhance existing habitats.  Efforts are often made to enhance properties and improve their biodiversity regardless of their current condition.  The monitoring of management areas is generally conducted by state and federal resource agencies.  The intent of such programs is generally not to measure the progress of a biodiversity program, but to confirm the lack of any impacts. 

AEP biodiversity impacts generally fall into four primary activities; steam electric generation, hydroelectric generation, wind generation and the maintenance of transmission and distribution facilities.  Strategies to manage the biodiversity impact of each of these activities are presented below and include a description of AEP’s forest management activities.

Steam Electric Generation
Before any major construction project begins, AEP will conduct an environmental assessment of proposed construction sites and prepare an environmental impact statement.  These assessments consider all the possible impacts that the project could have on the ecological and cultural characteristics of the site.  During these assessments, efforts are made to identify unique areas of special biological value or diversity.  If these sites are ultimately selected for construction and the areas cannot be avoided, mitigation projects are undertaken to replace the lost areas.

For example, as mitigation for 5.6 acres of wetland impacts for the AEP Kyger Creek FGD project, a wetland mitigation site will be developed on-site along Kyger Creek that will include 8.5 acres of wetland creation, 6.1 acres of wetland enhancement and the creation and preservation of an upland buffer area.  Stream mitigation for impacts to 9,342 linear feet of streams will include riparian buffer enhancement and preservation of 14,751 linear feet of streams on-site. For the Little Broad Run Landfill at the AEP Mountaineer Plant, 6,900 linear feet of stream and 0.11 acres of wetland will be preserved to mitigate for wetland and riparian impacts.

Once major facilities are constructed they are operated in a manner to minimize environmental impacts.  For example, as mentioned earlier, several AEP facilities have active wildlife stewardship programs that are documented under Wildlife Habitat Council Certifications.  These facilities sponsor one or more enhancement projects to improve wildlife or wildlife habitats in the area.

Given that AEP’s power plants withdraw large amounts of water, there is a concern with the effects that the plants may have on the resident populations of fish and other organisms.  As an example of AEP’s concern for the local ecosystems, the company has been the lead organizer, sponsor, and participant of a long-term study of fish populations in the Ohio River.  These field studies have provided a 35-year database demonstrating a lack of significant impacts from power plants and improvements to the overall fish community.  Several clean-water fish species have recovered over the years, while pollution-tolerant species have declined.  This is in response to the improved water quality of the river. 

AEP also participated in a unique collaborative program in which the Ohio River studies information used to comply with U.S. EPA regulations promulgated under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act governing the impacts of cooling water intake structures to resident fish and shellfish communities.  These structures can impact fish through entrainment and impingement.  Entrainment occurs when organisms pass through power plant intakes and into the plant, where they may suffer injury or death.  Impingement occurs when organisms are drawn against the intake screens by the force of the incoming water current.  Injury and asphyxiation may occur from striking or being caught on the intake screen surfaces.  Twelve companies, representing 17 facilities along the Ohio River, participated in this unprecedented study, which covered almost 1000 river miles from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi River.  Under the management of the Electric Power Research Institute, modeling studies performed using data collected during the AEP and industry-sponsored Ohio River studies have indicated that the fish populations in the river are not significantly affected by the cooling water intake systems.

Hydroelectric Generation
AEP makes every effort to operate its hydroelectric projects in an environmentally benign manner.   All projects must be relicensed with the FERC on a periodic basis and during the relicensing process, all potential environmental impacts are considered.  If mitigation is necessary, such as a fish stocking program or the cessasation of operation, it is incorporated into the operation of the particular project.  For example, the alteration of river and stream flow regimes as a result of project operation can make otherwise suitable riverine habitat unfit for aquatic invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and other riparian-dependent species.  However, dam operation restrictions are put in place at AEP hydroelectric facilities, which require a facility to operate as run-of-river so that the volume of water leaving a reservoir equals the volume of water entering the reservoir.  Stream flow alterations, therefore, become a function of natural phenomenon, such as heavy rains or periods of drought. 

Migrating fish may be prevented from moving upstream if their passage is blocked at a hydroelectric project.  This could have a significant effect on anadramous fish populations, such as chinook salmon or steelhead trout, which are stocked in the St. Joseph River by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) upstream and downstream of the AEP Twin Branch hydroelectric facility.  Below this facility, AEP operates the Berrien Springs, and Buchanan hydroelectric projects, at which, fish ladders are maintained to facilitate the upstream passage of fish.  In addition, the turbines at the Buchanan project are shut down for 2 weeks during the salmonid spawning period to allow out-migrating chinook salmon and steelhead trout smolts, which have been stocked by the IDNR, to pass over the dam without harm. 

While hydroelectric operation is often associated with adverse environmental impacts, environmental benefits can be realized due to the formation of an aquatic ecosystem in place of a terrestrial ecosystem.  Dam construction and the development of reservoirs can increase public access to otherwise remote habitats.  There will typically be an increase in fishing, motorboat use and other similar recreation activities.  AEP has installed fishing platforms and has improved boat access at many St. Joseph River and other hydroelectric project locations. 

Wind Generation
It was during the second generation of wind turbine design in the mid-1990s that AEP built an experimental wind farm near Fort Davis, Texas.  At the time, regional experts thought birds migrated by “island hopping” through, rather than flying over, the area in large numbers, as was known to occur in the coastal and mid-continent flyways.  AEP’s pre-construction avian activity study revealed that millions of night flying small birds flew over the site in the fall migration.  This was confirmed through radar surveys conducted during the year prior to construction.  Night vision equipment was also used, but could not detect the flocks that were so readily evident on radar.

The post-construction study revealed the same activity, but no interaction occurred with the wind turbines.  Daytime observations indicated that the birds recognized and avoided the wind turbine air space, but otherwise carried on their normal activities whether it was above the turbines (hawks, vultures) within the turbine area (ravens, crows), or closer to the ground (sparrows, quail).

The turbines were mounted on un-guyed monopoles in contrast to earlier designs that used lattice towers or guyed monopoles.  A guyed meteorological tower was, however, located on the site to gather weather data during the preconstruction study period and at least for the first post-construction year.  The guy wires for this tower were the only obstacles on the site that were known to have been involved in bird collisions.  Approximately five collisions with the guy wires were discovered in the two-year period.

The AEP wind farm was one of the earliest projects that took avian activity into consideration for site selection and considered whether or not there was a post-construction impact.  The newest wind turbines, because of their larger size, increased visibility, and site planning have considerably reduced avian collision risk. 

There are wind farms in Texas that compatibly share habitat with the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo.  Both are endangered species, however, there is no evidence of either having been involved in collisions with these structures.  AEP also installed bird flight diverters, at the time of construction, on the transmission lines serving two new wind farms in the coastal plains of Kenedy County, Texas, to reduce the potential for bird collisions with the line.

Transmission Facilities
AEP follows all appropriate federal, state and local regulations when siting new transmission lines.  The following describes the process that is followed when new transmission projects are sited and subject to state commission approval.  While AEP follows many of these same guidelines for other transmission projects, we are working to develop a more formalized framework for those projects.

When the location and routes of new transmission facilities are considered, a special effort is made to avoid potentially sensitive areas.  When these areas cannot be avoided, AEP strives to minimize the ecological impacts. Typically, comprehensive data collection and mapping is completed including stakeholder input from the public, and federal, state and local officials and agencies.  Feasible mitigations or avoidance measures are developed to address agency concerns.  After intensive analysis of collected data, a preferred route is selected that reasonably minimizes adverse impact on environmental resources (visual, natural and cultural) and is consistent with the project siting criteria.  Balancing and weighing these criteria is dependent on the line voltage and area of concern.  For example, the separation distance between a line and dwellings, schools, daycares, etc. will increase with increasing voltage.  Example project siting criteria include the following:

  • avoid or minimize impact upon human, natural, visual, and cultural resources;
  • avoid or minimize visibility from populated areas, scenic roadways, and designated scenic resources;
  • avoid or minimize conflict with existing and proposed future land uses;
  • avoid habitat fragmentation and designated areas of biodiversity concern;
  • maximize the separation distance from dwellings, schools, daycares, hospitals, and other community facilities;
  • maximize stakeholder input; 
  • maximize utilizing or paralleling of  existing rights-of-way;
  • minimize environmental impact and construction/maintenance costs by selecting shorter, direct routes;
  • route corridors through terrain where economical construction and environmental mitigation techniques can be employed, and where line operation/maintenance is feasible;
  • consistency with AEP transmission needs, project schedules, regulatory agency oversight requirements, and environmental regulations; and
  • adhere to the guidelines set forth by the Federal Power Commission (now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

Temporary bridge over sensitive stream.

Bird diverter installation on transmission line.

Forest Management
AEP domestically has approximately 170,000 acres of forestland under Forest Management. Forests occupy over 45% of the land AEP subsidiary companies own.  AEP Real Estate and Asset Management Department's mission is to implement a system-wide Forest Management Program following a philosophy of long-term sustained yield on all AEP forestlands.  This will be accomplished by providing guidance, direction, coordination and oversight of all Company Forest Management activities.

AEP Real Estate Asset Management Department's mission is to implement a system-wide Forest Management Program, the primary focus of which is to maintain the long-term productivity of existing forest assets by following a management philosophy of sustainable forestry on property that will remain in forest cover for the foreseeable future. This philosophy maintains the forest resource in a steady state by balancing forest growth with timber harvests. Following this philosophy is not only compatible with AEP's Environmental Stewardship Policies, it is necessary for the credible reporting of active Forest Management activities under the Climate Challenge and under Section 1605(b) of the 1992 Environmental Policy Act. The AEP Forest Management Program emphasizes sound contributions to ecological and wildlife habitat, and its commitment to enhanced recreational use.

American Tree Farm Program
In addition to managing all of AEP’s forest ownerships under the long-term sustained yield guidelines, AEP is an active participant in the American Forest Foundation (AFF), American Tree Farm Program. This program is an AFF national effort to encourage and recognize excellent forestry on private lands that are committed to sustained production of renewable forest products under a multiple use management approach. Sustainable forestry means managing forests to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by practicing a land stewardship ethic which integrates the reforestation, managing, growing, nurturing and harvesting of trees for useful products with the conservation of soil, air and water quality, wildlife and fish habitat and aesthetics.

All AEP Forest Management Plans address the four elements of the Tree Farm Certification Program; wood, water, wildlife and recreation use opportunities. Since 1983, AEP has had over 120,000 acres of its forestlands certified in the Tree Farm System, and In 2000 AEP was recognized as Tree Farmer of the year in Ohio. The American Tree Farm System is now endorsed by the Programm for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC). PEFC requires the American Tree Farm System follow internationally accepted third-party certification auditing procedures.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
Although AEP is not an active member of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
SFI has partnered with Tree Farm where by wood coming from Tree Farms is also certifiable by SFI,  SFI and Tree Farm Forest Management Programs adhere to the same Principles, :

  • sustainable forestry,
  • responsible practices,
  • forest health & productivity,
  • protecting special (e.g. biologically, geologically, or historical significant) sites, and
  • continuous Improvement.

AEP forest management activities also follow the Implementation Guidelines for Sustainable Forestry. The Performance Measures that are required of AF&PF members are recognized as standards by which the quality of AEP’s activities can also be measured.
Since 1998, loggers delivering wood products harvested from AEP managed forestlands have been reviewed by various SFI Members (Mead, MeadWesvaco, Smurfit-Stone & Weyerhaeuser,Gladfelter), as required in their procurement guidelines. Annually, at least one AEP operation is included in an SFI performance audit.

Source Information - AEP Corp of Engineer 404 compliance programs (wetland mitigations); AEP EPRI Ohio River Ecological Research Program reports; FERC hydro relicensing studies; WERS staff records (D. Bouchard); AEP Real Estate and Asset Management Forest Management Program; updated T&D information obtained from Scott Kennedy of AEP.

2012