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Appalachian Power turns toward sun and wind for future energy

Appalachian Power Co. expects to develop the means to generate more than a fifth of its energy from the sun and wind in 15 years, according to a plan filed with the state this week.

At the same time, it anticipates reducing its reliance on electricity from coal-fired power plants from 72 percent of the total to just more than half, the company said in the Integrated Resource Plan turned in to the State Corporation Commission.

Appalachian Power and other electrical utilities, such as Dominion Resources, must file an IRP periodically, in part to indicate progress toward regulatory requirements proposed – but not yet finalized – by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In its latest filing, Appalachian Power said it’s “not practical” to offer a compliance strategy for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan before it’s finalized. In compliance with an SCC order, however, the company offered a model of how it might reduce carbon emissions in the next 15 years.
“What we presented to the SCC is a credible plan but we were also conservative in our approach to the numbers,” said company spokeswoman Teresa Hamilton Hall.

In the plan, the company acknowledges a potential energy generation capacity shortfall in 2020 due to increasing demand and the shuttering of some coal-fired facilities to reduce emissions. Multiple facilities have been closed or will be, and some will be converted from coal to natural gas.

According to the plan, with the reduction in dependence on coal and the increase in the use of solar and wind generation, the company will boost reliance on natural gas from the current 14 percent of the mix to 23 percent.

Exactly where Appalachian Power will find or produce wind and solar energy remains unclear. The plan describes a bump in those sources in 2016, followed by a much larger leap in 2022.

“Our plan is certainly to add more renewable energy sources each year,” Hall said. “This could involve partnerships with a private company, a locality or even a college or university.”

Appalachian Voices, a North Carolina-based environmental nonprofit with an office in Charlottesville, praised the move toward renewable energy but questioned why other methods of reducing emissions got less attention.

“It’s great to see a plan where renewables take on a significant role,” said Hannah Wiegard, Virginia campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “I will add, we would appreciate seeing greater energy efficiency programs.”

According to the plan, Appalachian Power will increase energy efficiency programs from zero to 1 percent of its energy capacity.

Wiegard called that “disappointing” and “underdeveloped.”

Such programs, which involve making customers’ homes more energy efficient, have a special potency, said Appalachian Voices spokeswoman Cat McCue.

They reduce energy consumption, reduce bills for customers and create jobs for people who actually do the work, McCue said.

Wiegard, McCue and other advocates say Virginia’s electrical utilities are already 79 percent of the way to meeting proposed clean power plan goals for the state. They believe the remaining 21 percent can be met solely through wind and solar energy and efficiency programs.

Appalachian Power launched two efficiency programs in the spring, including a home weatherization program for low-income customers and one that involves installing devices on central air conditioning units that shift them to a more efficient mode during peak electricity demand periods. The SCC also just approved several other energy efficiency programs APCO wants to roll out, should the company choose to implement them.

Appalachian Power’s plan, however, is hardly set in stone, Hall said.

“This plan is a snapshot in time based on many assumptions,” Hall said. “We will clearly need to make adjustments in the coming months and years to account for changes in a variety of factors such as pricing and technology.”

Appalachian Power has one million customers in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee and is a division of Ohio-based American Electric Power, which has five million customers in 11 states.