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This work proposes a novel heuristic-hybrid optimization method designed to solve the nonconvex economic dispatch problem in power systems. Due to the fast computational capabilities of the proposed algorithm, it is envisioned that it becomes an operations tool for both the generation companies and the TSO/ISO. The methodology proposed improves the overall search capability of two powerful heuristic optimization algorithms: a special class of ant colony optimization called API and a real coded genetic algorithm (RCGA). The proposed algorithm, entitled GAAPI, is a relatively simple but robust algorithm, which combines the downhill behavior of API (a key characteristic of optimization algorithms) and a good spreading in the solution space of the GA search strategy (a guarantee to avoid being trapped in local optima). The feasibility of the proposed method is first tested on a number of well-known complex test functions, as well as on four different power test systems having different sizes and complexities. The results are analyzed in terms of both quality of the solution and the computational efficiency; it is shown that the proposed GAAPI algorithm is capable of obtaining highly robust, quality solutions in a reasonable computational time, compared to a number of similar algorithms proposed in the literature.