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AEP chief: Coal's elimination 'just not going to happen'

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although the amount of energy produced by coal will decrease in the nation -- from 45 percent today to 39 percent by 2020 -- a top electric utility company CEO said there is definitely a future for coal.

"Coal is naturally going to come down, natural gas will be the choice, but they're really marginal," said Nick Akins, president and chief executive officer of American Electric Power. "Once technology is proven, you'll start to see coal come back. We still need coal . . .  . If someone is trying to eliminate that, it's just not going to happen."

Akins addressed an audience of more than 100 people at the University of Charleston Tuesday night for the UC Speaker Series event "Energy: Who's Got the Power?" UC President Ed Welch moderated the discussion, which was sponsored by the Dow Chemical Foundation.

Akins' "Providing America's Power" conversation focused largely on how a disconnection between policy and the real world is a disadvantage for everyone. The challenge AEP faces is that the company has to adhere to specific mandates that then impact the rates that customers pay.

"To not allow the Keystone [XL] pipeline and to say no to coal and no to nuclear -- then what?" Akins said. "For us to continue to make advances, the state regulators need to speak up. It definitely is a challenge for us. We provide the basic necessity of life as we know it.  . . . What's counterproductive is not to have an energy policy."

Akins said that while AEP is more than just coal -- natural gas will be a bigger piece of the puzzle, he said -- the company is an advocate for keeping coal in the picture.

Akins oversaw the development of the world's first fully integrated carbon capture and storage project at AEP's Mountaineer Plant along the Ohio River in New Haven, and the building of the nation's only super-pulverized coal plant in Arkansas to meet growing demand in that region. That facility, the John W. Turk Plant, is nearly complete and will be the nation's most efficient coal-burning power plant, he said.

The 10th president in AEP's more than 100-year history, Akins began working with Central and South West Corp., which merged with AEP in 2000. He began his career in 1982 as an electrical engineer.

Before being elected AEP president in December 2010, Akins served for several years as executive vice president in charge of generation work, which included engineering, construction, power plant operations, fuels procurement and marketing.

Akins oversaw AEP's efforts to adopt new technology to address climate change concerns and an increasing demand for electric power.

He previously served as president and chief operating officer for Southwestern Electric Power, which had 439,000 customers in Louisiana, Arkansas and northeast Texas.

Akins was the first of five speakers in the UC Speaker Series who will discuss energy issues in West Virginia and the rest of the nation.

Eban Goodstein, director of the Bard Center for Environmental Protection, will be the next speaker in the series. He will speak Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m., in UC's Geary Auditorium, on "Climate Change and Power Solutions."

For a complete list of speakers, visit www.ucwv.edu/SpeakerSeries.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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