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U.S. Utilities Add Transmission and Renewables, Cut Coal as Grid Transition Continues

American Electrical Power (AEP), one of the larger investor-owned utilities in the United States, has unveiled a five-year, US$33-billion capital investment plan that focuses mostly on upgrading its transmission and distribution infrastructure.

The plan includes nearly $5 billion for renewable energy generation or acquisitions, along with $16.6 billion for transmission and $8.3 billion for distribution, Columbus Business First reports. The utility has been shutting down coal plants, and continued pursuing smaller renewables projects after regulators shot down a proposed $4.5-billion wind farm earlier this year.

AEP serves 5.4 million customers across 11 states and has 32,000 megawatts of generating capacity, including 4,340 MW of renewables.

As a result of the new capital plan, “our customers will benefit from a more reliable, resilient, and smarter energy system as we rebuild and enhance aging infrastructure and add new, more efficient technologies to our transmission and distribution systems,” said AEP Chair Nicholas Akins.

“Earlier this year, AEP announced plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2030, compared to 2000 levels,” CB1 states. “Part of that strategy is to add more than 8,300 megawatts of wind and solar generation and more than 2,600 megawatts of natural gas generation by 2030.”

In Ohio, meanwhile, utility FirstEnergy is spending more than $500 million on grid modernization, in a plan that includes installation of 700,000 smart meters, allowing time-of-day metering, and giving customers access to data on their energy use.

“In recent years, environmental advocates have been more accustomed to opposing FirstEnergy’s attempts to save uneconomic generation,” Utility Dive reports. “While those efforts continue on some level, FirstEnergy is moving in other directions, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says it is eager to work with the utility on ways to make its system more reliable and clean while also lowering costs.”

EDF Senior Regulatory Attorney John Finnigan wrote earlier this month that the organization will keep opposing FirstEnergy when it must. “But if the utility giant wants to build a cleaner, more modern grid, we are eager to work together,” he said in a November 9 blog post. “Case in point: We are pleased to report that we reached an agreement on FirstEnergy’s plan to spend $516 million on grid modernization, bringing about lower bills, greater customer choice, and less pollution.”

Utility Dive notes that FirstEnergy “has struggled to keep open some older coal plants, and ispreparing for closures.” In a study earlier in the fall, regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection concluded that closures proposed by FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions could proceed with no impact on grid reliability.