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​AEP CEO fighting to restructure the state’s energy market because it’s ‘the right thing for Ohio’

By: Tom Knox |

Some shareholders in American Electric Power Company Inc. may be fine if the utility ended its regulatory wrangling over its Ohio plants and just sold them, but the company’s CEO says that’s not the right thing to do for the state.

AEP is closing in on selling one batch of plants, and another is in the early stages, but first the Columbus utility is trying one more move, advocating for state legislation to restructure Ohio’s electric market.

“Some of our investors say, ‘Just forget it,’” Akins told me last week after he updated analysts on AEP’s Statehouse push. “‘You can just sell it and move on and you’ll be in great shape.’ Well my point is – yeah, that may be true but it’s not the right thing for Ohio. And for our customers and for the state of Ohio where I live, I don’t want to see that happen.

“I want Ohio to be able to decide its own resources and its own time frame and its own construct and drive the solutions that we believe are right for the state,” he said.

AEP (NYSE:AEP) wants to know by the first quarter of 2017 if the yet-to-be-introduced legislation stands a chance. It’s an aggressive timetable for a proposal that its rivals are watching closely, as I reported for this week’s paper.

It’s not just a financial issue for Akins, though. Those investors may want a quick and easy solution, but he said it’s more than that: “It’s a policy thing.”

The utility has long bemoaned the number of retiring coal plants without enough new plants to replace them. Though it’s a separate regional grid operator’s job to ensure there’s enough power flowing, Akins said the model needs tweaked. He wants a restructuring so AEP can feel secure building its own plants here.

“All these units are retiring,” he said. “They’re retiring the ones that are probably the most valuable to keep the system up and running and I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see that for Ohio or any of our jurisdictions. I guess I’m probably too close to this but I can’t understand why other people don’t see what I see.”