Power utilities are beginning to focus more attention on transmission as the aging system tries to keep up with increasing renewable energy generation as well forecasts for increased overall demand for electricity.

Giant power company American Electric Power announced last week that it was restructuring some of its executive leadership to reflect a renewed commitment to transmission projects both within and outside its power generation region. Among the changes, AEP’s SVP of Transmission, Michael Heyeck, will also become president of Electric Transmission America, a joint venture of AEP and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, effective January 1, 2012.

“We believe that now is the time to re-invest in the system to ensure we can continue providing reliable, efficient transmission service to our customers while we pursue transmission growth opportunities inside and outside of AEP’s service territory,” said AEP President and CEO Nicholas Atkins. “This realignment of our transmission business will help us improve the system, advance our leadership in the industry and deliver earnings growth through transmission projects.”

AEP spokesperson Tammy Ridout noted that the changes were simply routine “realignment” and a sign of continued commitment to growing the company’s transmission business. With Entergy recently announcing it plans to merge its transmission business with ITC Holdings, AEP’s decision to stick to an integrated generation and transmission model constitutes a contrasting approach to the power business.

As part of the changes, AEP also hired Scott Smith, currently VP and assistant to the president of Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC), as the new SVP of transmission strategy and business operations, with responsibility for transmission planning, real-time operations, technology, financial reporting, business development and strategic initiatives, process improvement and performance management.

Robert Bradish, currently serving as AEP’s managing director of transmission planning and business development, will be promoted to VP of grid development, reporting to Smith.

PJM Interconnect, the RTO that manages the electricity market in part of the region AEP serves, said–through spokesperson Ray Dotter– that it also recognized the importance of investing in grid reliability and transmission planning.

“Depending on various scenarios of renewable energy development for example, that could significantly increase the need for additional transmission lines,” Dotter told Breaking Energy. “There are lots of opportunities.”

Photo Caption: A coal scraper machine works on a pile of coal at American Electric Power’s (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009.