How We Engage
Our commitment to stakeholder engagement and developing healthy, trusting relationships is important to us. Stakeholder engagement at AEP takes many different forms, including written correspondence, social media, teleconferences and face-to-face meetings. In November 2013, we held a multi-stakeholder meeting with AEP’s leadership team, led by Chairman, President and CEO Nick Akins. During our meeting with environmental organizations and socially responsible investors, 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 AEP’s business challenges and opportunities as we transition toward a more sustainable energy future.
We discussed the operational, social and financial consequences of coal unit retirements; the diversification of our generation portfolio; our investments in new technology and grid modernization; our changing business model; and the growth of our transmission business. We also discussed our focus on engaging our employees to help us meet these challenges.
We recognize the importance of engaging with our fuel suppliers and conducted our fourth coal supplier stakeholder meeting in December 2013. More than a dozen AEP coal suppliers joined AEP leaders, including Nick Akins, to discuss the results of AEP’s annual Sustainability Coal Supplier Survey. In addition to the survey results, the discussion focused on the future of the coal industry and the suppliers’ relationships with AEP. Through this survey, we have now collected five years of environmental, safety and health performance data about our suppliers. Our suppliers continue to exhibit superior performance compared with national averages.
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 at a power plant. As costs of customer-owned generation decline, communities have become more active participants in resource planning discussions.
This was the case in Indiana last year during stakeholder meetings about Indiana Michigan Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Participants helped shape a plan that includes renewable generation and energy efficiency to meet load growth. An IRP, which is filed with state regulatory commissions, explains how a utility company will meet projected capacity, or peak demand, and energy requirements of its customers. This type of engagement allows our stakeholders to be more personally involved with our subject matter experts.
The Role of Social Media
There is nothing as important or effective as developing relationships face to face, but the pace of change requires us to use a variety of communication channels to engage with our stakeholders and to stay in touch more generally. Social media plays a significant role in this evolution, although it will never replace the personal connections we value.
We regularly connect with stakeholders using tools such as email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Yammer, Instagram and blog posts, 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.
Social media has become an increasingly critical tool in our ability to communicate with customers, and they with us, 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, smartphone devices 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 YouTube to share information such as:
- Estimated restoration times and maps,
- Public safety messages,
- Photos and videos of the damage.
In late 2013, AEP developed new features on its website, partly in response to the exponential increase in website traffic from mobile devices. These new features allow customers to learn the cause of an outage, if known; estimated times for power restoration for their address, and the number of customers affected.