The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Monday, September 15, 2003

EEI stresses retail power as USEC sales wane
A broader customer base is the lifeblood for EEI's 265 workers, according to Vice President Bill Sheppard.

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

JOPPA, Ill.--When Electric Energy Inc. cranked out its first commercial power in August 1953, it was home to the world's largest turbines and tallest towers to move high voltage across the Ohio River to a massive nuclear plant west of Paducah.

EEI, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and nearby Shawnee Steam Plant all built in the early 1950s to support enriching uranium for atomic weaponry created what historians have consistently called the area's greatest economic event. In less than three years, the population doubled with tens of thousands of construction workers from across the country.

After the Korean War and Cold wars ended, the diffusion plant's mission changed to making fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. While EEI and Shawnee remain huge suppliers of the plant, they have had to broaden their customer base to survive.

In 2000, new EEI subsidiary Midwest Electric Power began generating and selling electricity to EEI's owners: Kentucky Utilities; Ameren in St. Louis; and Dynegy, the parent company of Illinois Power. As a result, the owners now buy about 80 percent of EEI electricity and the enrichment plant about 20 percent.

By early next decade, the Paducah plant will be replaced by gas centrifuge technology, either at Paducah or Piketon, Ohio. Operator USEC Inc. will make that decision by the end of the year and says Piketon is preferred because it already has a gas centrifuge complex and doesn't have Paducah's earthquake risk problems.

By next year, EEI owners will buy all the Joppa plant's power and sell what they don't need to the enrichment plant and other customers. Given the uncertainty about the Paducah plant, the broadened customer base is the lifeblood for EEI's 265 workers, Vice President Bill Sheppard said.

"What we've been able to do through all of the improvements we've made is lower our total cost to generate electricity," Sheppard said. "We're under 2 cents per kilowatt hour. I don't know where that stands nationally but it's very low. That represents job security for our workers."

Cheaper electricity is the result of better efficiency. EEI made about $200 million in capital improvements in the early 1990s, including nearly tripling is coal-unloading capacity. It also has smarter workers because of major improvements in training and the start of company-reimbursed college courses for employees, President Bob Powers said.

"When significant change was needed to remain competitive, the people of EEI implemented the necessary changes to achieve our objectives," he said. "Today, EEI is one of the most cost-effective and cleanest plants in the country."

EEI is also among the best paying plants in economically depressed southern Illinois, where industry is scarce. The average EEI union worker earns $25.23.

The Eleams of Metropolis have earned steady paychecks from EEI. The late Willis Eleam was a relay and electronic technician. His son, Durwood Eleam, now retired, was an operations shift supervisor. Durwood Eleam's daughter, Susan Eleam Thompson, is an administrative assistant in purchasing.

"Since 1957, EEI has provided our family with excellent jobs," she said. "I am proud to be the third generation of Eleams working at EEI."

Twenty-five year employee Mike Shelton said EEI workers through the years have consistently helped with charitable causes, providing money to retirees who can't afford medical insurance and pitching in during the aftermath of the May tornado that ripped through southern Illinois.

"People have come and gone," he said.

"But the one thing that remains the same is the willingness and generosity of the employees in times of need."

Electric Energy Inc. will celebrate its 50th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Following a ceremony with elected officials, there will be public tours and viewing of memorabilia. Those touring should be prepared to show a driver's license or other valid, government-issued photo ID. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Information: 618-543-7531, ext. 224, 204 or 429.

Formed in December 1950 by five firms to provide half the power needs of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Newly planned Shawnee Steam Plant would provide the other 50 percent.

$182 million plant took nearly five years to complete. Construction jobs peaked in 1952 at nearly 3,900. The first of four generators went into commercial operation in August 1953 and the last in August 1955.

Construction required enough: concrete to build 113 miles of highway, steel to erect 11 buildings 20 stories high, electric cable to reach from St. Louis to Montreal, and boiler tubes to stretch from Chicago to Charleston, W. Va.

Environmental regulations led to installation of electrostatic precipitators and three new 550-foot stacks in 1970s. Cost of stacks exceeded $9 million.

The six turbine generators, largest in the world when EEI was built, provide enough electricity to power Pittsburgh, Pa. Six boilers generate enough steam to operate 12 locomotives at 10 times their design pressure.

Transmission lines across Ohio River to USEC plant are on towers 478 feet high and 4,000 feet apart.

Plant requires enough circulating water to supply normal needs of seven major cities.

Payroll is 265 109 salaried, and 156 hourly affiliated with International Union of Operating Engineers Local 148.