How We Engage
Our commitment to stakeholder engagement and developing healthy, trusting relationships is important to AEP. A stakeholder is defined as someone who impacts or is impacted by AEP’s financial and operational performance. Whether you’re a customer, investor, supplier, employee or other stakeholders we interact with, each one requires a unique level of engagement as well as outlets to engage. Stakeholder engagement can sometimes be a 24/7 operation, such as customer engagement at our call centers or through our websites and social media outlets. Other relationships require engagement through face-to-face meetings or teleconferences, such as community open houses and standing calls.
In December 2014, we held a stakeholder meeting that included participation from several environmental organizations and AEP’s leadership team, including Chairman, President and CEO Nick Akins. During our meeting, we emphasized the importance of these relationships to AEP and encouraged stakeholders to share their ideas and concerns, including opportunities to collaborate. The dialogue focused largely on carbon emissions and the impacts of the proposed carbon regulation in the power sector, as well as AEP’s business challenges and opportunities as we transition toward a more sustainable energy future.
There is continuing dialogue and general agreement that technology, policy, timing and collaboration are all critical to a clean energy transition plan. As a result, AEP scheduled periodic calls with the stakeholders to keep the channels of communication open and continue information sharing as well as looking for areas of collaboration.
Stakeholder engagement happens at all levels and in many forms throughout AEP. Our operating companies, power plants and other business units regularly engage with many different stakeholders on a wide variety of topics. In some cases, our approach includes stakeholder collaborative groups focused on such topics as energy efficiency or resource planning. In other cases, it is one-on-one or a broader outreach to a community, such as an open house to discuss local projects.
AEP wants to hear about concerns our stakeholders have so that we can have meaningful dialogue that is mutually beneficial. An example of this took place at the John E. Amos power plant in Winfield, W.Va., where plant employees hosted an open house to discuss the flue gas desulfurization (FGD) landfill expansion project. The expansion is needed to store FGD material over the next 20 years. Local landowners who would be potentially impacted by the construction work were invited to discuss the construction plan, timeline, purpose and actions taken to make the work as minimally disruptive as possible.
Another example of communicating openly with stakeholders came during project planning for the Holloway Station transmission project in Ohio. Members of the AEP Transmission project team met with residents when they expressed concerns about the heavy truck travel expected on their streets during construction of the station. Residents worried about trucks blocking passage for emergency vehicles and school buses. By listening to and working with those who were affected we were able to reduce the number of truckloads by more than 75 percent and reduced the duration of construction work from several months to four to six weeks. We also planned the work to avoid school bus schedules.
In 2013, AEP Transmission formed a transmission siting team which is responsible for frontline public outreach and siting support for transmission projects in AEP’s 11-state footprint. The work typically takes place far ahead of the construction phase of a transmission project and involves community relations, engaging natural and cultural resource organizations and stakeholders affected by a transmission project.
In 2014, AEP Transmission developed a formal outreach strategy that matches the level of construction being planned. Through this strategy we supported more than twice the level of public outreach than occurred the previous year. We use a variety of communication channels to share information, including holding open house meetings, direct mail and a dedicated, customer-focused and interactive project website that allows customers to get information about projects by state. Using this web site, anyone can see how projects under consideration related to their property interests.
One example of this program in action is the Powering Up Central project. This six-mile, $500 million project will rebuild an existing transmission line near downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. This project will be rebuilt in an area that crosses through parks, soccer fields, a canal, greenways and privately owned land. We are engaging with affected landowners and the general public to ensure we understand and can address the concerns and communicate the facts.
In addition to stakeholder engagement, AEP actively lobbies at the federal and state level on issues that affect our company and our customers.
The Role of Social Media
It is very important and effective to develop relationships face-to-face. However, the pace of change and the proliferation of digital communications technology and social media require us to use a variety of communication channels to engage with our stakeholders more frequently. Social media plays a significant role in this evolution, especially in connecting us with our customers.
Social media continues to be a critical tool in our ability to communicate with customers, and they with us. AEP and its operating companies are very active through social media, especially through our Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and LinkedIn pages. In 2014, AEP was ranked as one of the top ten utilities in social media by ESource, a research and advisory firm for utilities and large energy users.
We continue to see an increase in social media engagement and followers, especially during major storm restoration efforts. Storm damage can leave customers in the dark with limited or no access to information resources, such as TV, for hours and sometimes days. During these outages, smartphones and tablets become a lifeline for many customers, allowing us to connect them with real-time information about restoration efforts. AEP uses Facebook, Twitter and the web to share information such as:
- Outage numbers by county or city,
- Estimated restoration times and maps,
- Public safety messages,
- Photos and videos of the damage.
We also regularly connect with stakeholders using tools such as email, YouTube, LinkedIn and blogs, among others. We can engage those who have an interest in our business, and we can see what people are saying about us, our activities and our industry. This engagement helps us understand the perceptions some may have and gives us the opportunity to respond if we so choose.
In September 2014, we launched an AEP Careers Facebook page where we regularly post job openings within AEP and our 11-state service territory. As of April 2015, the AEP Careers Facebook page had more than 2,000 followers.