Protest of power plant closures held

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MASONTOWN – Efforts continue to convince First Energy Corp. to reconsider its intention to close coal-powered Hatfield Ferry and Mitchell Power plants in October.


Plant workers and supporters gathered Wednesday along Route 21 near Hatfield to protest the pending closures. The closure announcement comes just months after the contract between First Energy and the United Workers Union of America (UWUA) expired.


Holding a sign reading, ‘First Energy Unfair, bonuses for bosses cuts for workers,’ Robert Szerszen, who has worked at the Mitchell plant for 31 years, said none of the contract issues were settled.


“We basically wanted to hold on to everything we have,” Szerszen said as passing motorists honked in support of the workers.


UWUA Local President Jim Premoshis has been with the company six months longer than Szerszen. Premoshis transferred from Mitchell to Hatfield after First Energy invested over $600 million four years ago to pollution controls.


“I transferred here because I figured with the new scrubbers I could make it to retirement. They are saying they can’t make money, telling us this plant is not profitable enough to put more pollution (control) equipment in,” Premoshis said. “I’ll be 54 in August.”


With a slated shutdown date of Oct. 9, Premoshis said he will come up one year and one month short of early retirement.


Premoshis said he feels sorry for a lot of the younger workers who bought houses and have young children.


Gregg Jerome, 29, falls into that category.


Jerome just bought a new home a year ago, when his wife Mindi gave birth to the couple’s first child, Dominic.


If he loses his job, the Jeromes face mortgage payments, the loss of the family’s health insurance and student loan debt Jerome incurred getting his electrician’s license.


“He went into work and started at 7 a.m. and at 7:30 a.m. they had a meeting and told them, ‘That was it,’” Mindi Jerome said. “They won’t give them any answers to anything. They’ve had three meetings since. All they say is, ‘that is a good question. I don’t have an answer. I’ll get back to you.’”


UWUA national staff member Bill Sterner said the union hopes to get those answers by Friday.


“We’ve met with the company and we’re meeting again this Friday. We’ve posed a series of questions to them that might explain this decision to close. So far we’ve received no answer, other than what they put in a press release,” Sterner said. “We don’t think there’s been a just case made to close these plants.”


First Energy said it will provide severance packages for eligible employees totaling around $16 million, but the details of those packages were not made public.


Looking to the stacks of the Hatfield plant, Sterner said, “You see the smoke coming out of those stacks? They are at full bore right now. The price of megawatts last week ranged from $100 to $300 a megawatt. That plant puts 1,600 megawatts onto the grid.”


Sterner said Hatfield is currently meeting all of the EPA standards, and the new rules they are talking about do not go into effect at the plant until 2016. Based on this and the market conditions, Sterner said, “We haven’t been given any answers to show that it (closure) is legit.”


The protest at Hatfield came just hours after State Rep. Richard Kasunic of Fayette County sent a letter issuing his own protest with the Public Utility Commission.


“Specifically pertaining to the Hatfield Ferry Power Station, which underwent a $650 million environmental upgrade in 2009, it continues to be one of the cheapest, unsubsidized, base load generating facilities at under 3 cents per kilowatt hour,” Kasunic said in his letter. “Closure of these facilities will result in the loss of this inexpensive and unsubsidized source of power, which is only compounded by the fact that Pennsylvania electric consumers previously assumed the capital costs of both of these facilities.”


Kasunic said it was his understanding that the next step in the process of the proposed closures is to complete a grid reliability analysis by the PJM, the world’s largest competitive wholesale electricity market with 830 member companies.


“The PJM, just last year, halted the closure of three First Energy plants due to grid reliability concerns. These plants are continuing to operate today under ‘reliability must run agreements’ with the PJM,” Kasunic said in a release. “For this reason, I would request the PUC urge the PJM to complete a thorough and stringent grid reliability analysis on these proposed closures, and, if there is any indication of potential generation issues or increased price volatility, that the PUC demand the PJM to keep these facilities operating.”


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