Protecting the Environment
Habitat Conservation Plan
Balancing customers’ need for reliable electric service with respect for the environment is important when building transmission lines and substations. AEP’s preference is to avoid areas with threatened and endangered species during construction. However, some species (such as the Indiana and northern long-eared bats) use common and widespread habitats that are not easily avoided. A Habitat Conservation Plan is under development for these situations.
The plan supports an incidental take permit (ITP) that minimizes and addresses unintentional impacts of transmission construction on endangered species. The plan:
- Defines actions to fulfill requirements of the Endangered Species Act
- Focuses on region-wide habitat conservation
- Improves the permitting process by removing the need to permit individual projects
Click on the following fact sheet and FAQ document to learn more.
Protecting Birds, Habitats and Endangered Species
AEP’s 11-state service territory stretches across a variety of wildlife habitats. AEP Transmission’s environmental due diligence includes:
- Identification and protection of wildlife habitats, endangered species and sensitive ecosystems.
- Commitment to ensure transmission facilities are designed and built according to all applicable laws and environmental regulations.
AEP Transmission protects critical habitats and endangered species by working with conservation organizations and agencies to prevent or minimize impacts, as illustrated in the following examples:
The American Burying Beetle (ABB) is found in eastern Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas. In 1989, it became an endangered species, requiring any habitat disturbance to be offset. Today, when the beetle’s discovered along a proposed power line route, field surveys are restricted during the beetle’s active season. In May 2019, AEP received an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the American Burying Beetle.
The Lesser Prairie-Chicken, a type of American grouse, is a protected species found in Oklahoma and Texas. AEP is among more than 30 companies in five states supporting the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan which provides $21 million for habitat conservation. The program provides funding to farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect and restore the bird’s habitat.
Nine of the 11 states in AEP’s service territory are home to the Indiana bat. In order to protect the bat’s habitat, tree cutting is limited to certain months, protecting the season when the bats roost under tree bark or crevices. Before crews can enter an area with potential bat habitat, trees must be searched for the endangered bat prior to any tree trimming or cutting during the summer and fall.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. American Bald Eagles and high-voltage transmission lines have coexisted for decades.
SWEPCO Lake in Arkansas, the cooling reservoir for the Southwestern Electric Power Company’s (SWEPCO) Flint Creek Plant, is an example of successful coexistence. The plant is connected to the grid by six high-voltage transmission lines; however SWEPCO Lake is widely regarded as a haven for American Bald Eagles. SWEPCO’s popular Eagle Watch Nature Trail includes a wildlife viewing pavilion open to the public year-round. Audubon Arkansas designated the Flint Creek property as an “Important Bird Area” in 2007. Today, approximately 700 acres of the plant’s 1,600 acres create a designated wildlife habitat.
- In coastal regions, like the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, AEP takes steps to protect sea grass. While such mitigation can add significant costs to projects, the preservation is critical to the area because the plants are important to supporting ecosystem services. Sea grasses are submerged flowering plants that stabilize the sea bottom, provide food and habitat for other marine organisms, maintain water quality and support local economies.
Birds and Power Lines
AEP’s is taking proactive steps to prevent bird collision with power lines by implementing the best protection practices.
The most common reasons birds collide with power lines include:
- Biology - the topography, vegetation, migration, breeding, prey availability and other behavioral or biological influences that attract birds to power lines, poles, towers and substations.
- Engineering - the clearance between energized parts or between energized and grounded hardware on a pole may not be sufficient to discourage bird contact, providing an opportunity for the bird to be electrocuted, often resulting in a power outage.
When nests are discovered on electrical equipment, the nest is moved to prevent harm to the bird and ensure system reliability. To properly deal with birds and nests on electrical equipment, permits are often required from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).
When a bird collision or electrocution occurs, the utility is required file a report with the USFWS. AEP trains field personnel on the proper way to report bird deaths and to recognize and report instances where proactive mitigation action can be taken.
AEP’s Avian Protection Plan
While AEP tracks bird interactions with facilities across its system, the company’s primary focus is on larger birds such as hawks, eagles, owls, osprey and wading birds (e.g. herons), as well as smaller birds that nest on equipment or perch in large flocks. These species run a greater risk of colliding with towers and lines.
The AEP Avian Protection Plan includes:
- Employee education and training to comply with all federal and state laws.
- Construction design standards to highlight bird safety.
- Nest management and avian enhancement options for bird safety, such as installing a dummy pole for nesting or diverters to keep birds away from wires.
- Avian reporting systems and risk assessment methodologies with updated tracking system to improve monitoring and reporting capabilities to allow for a more proactive response.
- Public education to promote the need for migratory bird and habitat conservation, increase cooperation with federal and state agencies and non-profit organizations.
Collaboration for Avian Protection
For more than three decades, the utility industry, conservation groups and wildlife resource agencies have collaborated to study and understand the reasons birds are attracted to utility equipment.
To conserve native North American species of birds and reduce avian contacts, utilities have adopted voluntary company-specific Avian Protection Plans.
In 2013, AEP completed its voluntary plan. AEP also participates in the industry’s Avian Power Line Interaction Committee and is adopting its suggested practices.