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AEP Celebrates National Pollinator Week

by on June 18, 2018
AEP manages and maintains about 40,000 miles of transmission line and related right-of-way areas. To maintain reliability, utilities work in power line corridors to plant and manage vegetation, control erosion, and trim or remove trees that encroach on grid equipment.

(Story by Linda O’horo)

Across its footprint, AEP values and practices environmental stewardship to preserve our natural ecosystem. This week, AEP joins other power companies to raise awareness about the crucial role of pollinators (bees, butterflies, birds, and other creatures) in flower and plant fertilization, and about its efforts to facilitate pollinator population growth through vegetation management.

AEP manages and maintains about 40,000 miles of transmission line and related right-of-way areas. To maintain reliability, utilities work in power line corridors to plant and manage vegetation, control erosion, and trim or remove trees that encroach on grid equipment.

In addition to following vegetation management measures to comply with federal regulations, AEP has added a number of voluntary environmental projects to support pollinator populations, which are declining in some areas.

Typically, transmission right-of-way areas are dominated by non-native grasses and weedy species. These offer a poor habitat for native wildlife, and require regular mowing or herbicide treatments.

“In transmission corridors in some regions, we can plant native prairie grasses and flowers which potentially inhibit tree growth, control erosion, tolerate drought, and increase biodiversity,” says Tim Lohner, Ph.D., AEP consulting environmental specialist. “Once growth is established, minimal maintenance is needed. While native grass seed generally costs more, savings result because fertilizers are not required, and there is a reduced need for herbicides and mowing, over time.”

Through AEP Transmission’s Team Transmission 2022 projects, teams of employees investigate ways to drive down operations and maintenance costs. One of the selected projects studies the use of native seed mixes throughout the service territory.

AEP’s Voluntary Initiatives to Help Pollinators

AEP partners with a number of communities and nonprofit organizations for voluntary initiatives and projects which benefit pollinators and other wildlife. Examples of AEP right-of-way projects which support pollinators include:

AEP is partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the nonprofit Dawes Arboretum (near Newark, Ohio) to create a biodiverse prairie habitat along a transmission right-of-way.
  • Creation of Biodiverse Prairie Habitat: AEP is partnering with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the nonprofit Dawes Arboretum (near Newark, Ohio) to create a biodiverse prairie habitat along a transmission right-of-way. Native prairie species were planted in six test plots in the right-of-way area, which includes forest and farmland habitat. In the first year of monitoring, researchers observed no erosion and documented rich biodiversity: nine bee species, 21 bird species, and nine butterfly species. Over the next few years, habitat quality, erosion control, and tree growth will be monitored. AEP and EPRI are also involved with other pollinator initiatives and ROW vegetation management studies.
  • Right-of-Way Restoration Using Pollinator-Friendly Plant Seed Mix: Amy Toohey, environmental specialist consultant for AEP Environmental Services’ Water & Ecological Resource Services, is managing a pilot project involving substituting a pollinator-friendly plant seed mix for restoration damaged vegetation in a right-of-way area for a 138-kV transmission line, which runs through a portion of the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Area (ODNR-managed).
  • ROW as Habitat Workgroup, University of Illinois-Chicago:  AEP is a member of a multi-sector partnership, coordinated by the Energy Resources Center, which is developing a voluntary Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), a USFWS regulatory mechanism that would encourage land managers (including energy companies and transportation agencies) to voluntarily adopt measures that are beneficial to the monarch butterfly. CCAA incentives could include planting native plants, and using Integrated Vegetation Management best practices and other conservation measures to maintain plants that monarchs and other pollinators need. In the last 20 years, the population of monarch butterflies in the eastern United States has declined by 80 percent, putting the species in jeopardy. A primary cause is loss of lands containing native flowering plants that the butterflies need for food.

 

Coming Soon – Right-of-Way Vegetation Plot Demonstration for the Public: Adjacent to the existing New Albany Transmission Headquarters building and the second headquarters building now under construction, a designated 10-acre area will be landscaped and planted this fall to create demonstration plots featuring AEP’s vegetation management plants. AEP’s environmental specialists are involved, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), a number of nonprofit organizations, and a horticulturalist from a seed company.

A sampling of current AEP environmental initiatives and projects includes:

Each year, Conesville Plant hosts a number of environmental and community organizations which present on various topics during Earth Day activities.
  • SWEPCO Region – Flint Creek Eagle Watch Area: Terry Stanfill, a retired Flint Creek Power Plant employee, manages this project and partners with the City of Gentry (Arkansas) and five area organizations. Supported by Southwestern Power Company (SWEPCO) and the Flint Creek Plant, it promotes environmental education and supports local wildlife, including pollinators. This 65-acre area includes a trail and a pavilion to view eagles that visit a nearby cooling lake. Stanfill coordinates field trips and activities for local schools, Audubon clubs, 4-H and scouting groups. He works with the Gentry Fire Department to conduct annual burns of the on-site prairie, and has maintained the site’s Wildlife Habitat Council Certification. The plant has received numerous awards from local business and environmental organizations.
  • SWEPCO – Flint Creek Plant Landfill: After a typical seed mix did not grow well on a portion of the landfill, there were concerns about erosion. Working with the University of Arkansas and a horticulturalist from a seed company, Flint Creek and AEP Environmental staff developed a seed mix with native species, which became well-established – providing drought and erosion tolerance and wildlife benefits.
  • Earth Day Events Supported in Various Communities: AEP owns and operates the Conesville Plant in Conesville, Ohio. Each year, the plant hosts a number of environmental and community organizations which present on various topics. This year, three groups from AEP Environmental Services talked about the environment to groups of fifth and sixth graders from local area schools. They also collected insects and learned about pollinators.
  • Ohio Region: Power Plant Ash Pond Closure Management: AEP Environmental Services is helping manage the closure of a fly ash pond at the Gavin Plant (a coal-powered plant in Cheshire, Ohio formerly owned by AEP), and installing native vegetation to support pollinators, deer, and turkey. This project is guided by an ODNR administrator, wildlife biologists from the USFWS and Pheasants Forever (nonprofit conservation organization for wildlife and habitat improvements).
  • Ohio Region – Rain Garden at Georgian Heights Alternative Elementary School, designed and sponsored by AEP.

 

Learn more about AEP’s environmental stewardship efforts on AEP’s Stewardship in Action page or in AEP’s Corporate Accountability Report.  If you have other examples of pollinator work across the AEP system, or wish to become more involved, contact Tim Lohner at twlohner@aep.com or 614-716-1255.

From → News From AEP

2 Comments
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