November 9, 2017 Read More →

U.S. Utility With Millions of Customers: ‘It’s All Wind and Solar’

GreenTech Media:

When Charles Patton joined American Electric Power in 2000, around 90 percent of the company’s electricity production came from coal. Since then, AEP’s executive vice president of external affairs says things have changed dramatically.

“I will confess, there was a time I wouldn’t have publicly stated — although in the last few years I have publicly stated that I was wrong — that you would be able to [interconnect] renewables to the extent that we’ve been able to,” said Patton, speaking Tuesday at Greentech Media’s inaugural Power & Renewables Summit in Austin, Texas. “If you were a utility guy…that wasn’t something you necessarily believed was possible to the degree it is today.”

AEP isn’t traditionally thought of as the most environmentally friendly utility, but that reputation is changing — marking arguably one of the most significant endorsements of clean energy technologies to date.

In 2005, coal made up 70 percent of AEP’s generation capacity — which is how the utility measures its electricity mix today. Since then, coal’s share of capacity has dropped to 47 percent. At the same time, AEP’s natural gas capacity increased from 19 percent in 2005 to 27 percent today, and renewables entered the scene in a meaningful way, growing from 4 percent in 2005 to 13 percent today.

Renewable energy is now slated to make up the vast majority of AEP’s planned generation additions over the next decade. In AEP’s third-quarter 2017 earnings report, the utility said it plans to add another 8,360 megawatts of wind and solar through 2030 across its regulated and deregulated businesses — and that doesn’t even include the 2,000-megawatt Wind Catcher project, which could become the largest wind project in North America.

AEP currently operates more than 224,000 miles of distribution lines in 11 states that deliver power to nearly 5.4 million regulated customers. It has approximately 33 gigawatts of generating capacity, 4.2 gigawatts of which is renewable energy.

AEP was also the first utility to test a sodium sulfur battery at utility-scale in the mid-2000s. More recently the utility has tested community energy storage pilots in Ohio and invested $5 million in energy storage software provider Greensmith.

Last week, AEP announced it plans to boost its renewable energy investments to $1.8 billion over the next three years, $1.3 billion of which will be for competitive, contracted renewable projects. The remaining $500 million will be invested in renewable energy projects in regulated states. These planned investments do not include the $4.5 billion Wind Catcher project in Oklahoma, which is subject to regulatory approvals in 2018.

“To think a utility that was at one time the largest coal-burning utility in the Western hemisphere, that that’s where our focus is,” Patton said, remarking on AEP’s strong embrace of clean energy.

“We don’t even have gas on the horizon; it’s all wind and solar.”

Overall, AEP plans to invest $18.2 billion in capital from 2018 through 2020, with 72 percent of that focused on its transmission and distribution operations.

“Today, we are solely focused on making the right investments to be the energy company of the future including modern, smarter infrastructure; advanced technologies; and cleaner generation,” said Nicholas Akins, AEP’s chairman, president and CEO, in a statement.

More: AEP Exec: The Future for Coal Power Is ‘Very Limited’

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