Century: PSC decision not enough for smelter's restart - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Century: PSC decision not enough for smelter's restart

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Century Aluminum announced Oct. 9 that it will not reopen its Jackson County smelter at this time following a decision last week by the state Public Service Commission that did not allow some of the rate adjustments the company had been seeking.

The company said it did plan to appeal the PSC's decision.

"Century Aluminum has reviewed the PSC's rate case decision. The order includes several positive elements but, as it stands, is not sufficient for a smelter restart at this time," the California-based company stated. " As previously stated, Century is seeking an enabling power contract that would allow us to operate the plant continuously, well into the future. We regret that the current order does not meet that need. Century is in the process of discussing modifications that would permit a restart at this time, and we plan to file a motion for reconsideration with the PSC."

Century Aluminum petitioned the PSC for a new electricity rate for its aluminum smelter in May. The plant closed in 2009, and 650 jobs were lost because of it. Retirees also lost their benefits, but part of the latest agreement for a new rate was for retirees to regain their benefits.

The PSC heard the case in August and issued its decision Oct. 4. The rate it approved was not what Century had requested, and PSC members wrote in the 70-page decision that they had tried to balance the interests of all parties to the case.

Appalachian Power expressed a major concern that other ratepayers' bills would increase because of Century's request for several subsidies.

The special rate the PSC approved sets a minimum monthly payment for electricity, but it also allows an electricity rate tied to the market price of aluminum. Any deviation from the minimum price would be kept in a "tracking account." The rate also requires Century to guarantee any deficits at the end of the power contract. The rate allows a continuance of $20 million that other ratepayers took on when the plant closed in 2009 because of fixed costs, but if there is an excess in Century's "tracking account," the first $20 million would be returned to ratepayers, and if there is excess money beyond $20 million, it will be divided at a rate of 75 percent to Century and 25 percent to other ratepayers.

According to the PSC, Century has 10 calendar days from the date of the decision to file its appeal. That means the deadline for Century to file is Oct. 14. However, because the deadline falls on a Sunday, Century has until Oct. 15, the next business day, to file its motion to reconsider. Century filed a motion Oct. 9 asking the PSC to extend the time period to file a petition for reconsideration to Nov. 1 to give the company time to review the order. Century's motion pointed out that the PSC's order resolved the case in a way no party to the case had previously proposed, so the company needs time to evaluate the order's implications.  

Ravenswood Mayor Michael Ihle said he isn't giving up hope that the plant, which closed in 2009 resulting in more than 600 people losing their job, will eventually reopen. He said he is hopeful the PSC and Century can reach a mutually agreeable solution.

"It's a delicate process," he said.

He said the plant's reopening is not just important to the city of Ravenswood, but the region and the state. He said the plant employed people from a large area. Plus, the plant was the largest consumer of electricity in the state.

"It's in the best interest of not just the city, but region and state to get it open. But at same time, we want to make sure the rate doesn't burden the state and its citizens," Ihle said, later adding, "Hopefully they can reach a decision that is favorable to both sides."

Jeri Matheney, spokeswoman for Appalachian Power, said she was unsure about Century's issues with the order so she couldn't comment on its statement, but AEP is continuing to analyze the order and is planning to file its own petition for reconsideration.

"We too have concerns with the ruling, particularly with the potential level of risk it could impose on the company," Matheney said in a prepared statement.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., issued a statement Tuesday evening, calling the news "deeply disappointing."

"The West Virginia Public Service Commission took a very serious look at this issue and created a path to allow Century Aluminum to reopen its Ravenswood smelter, but unfortunately, Century Aluminum is still not moving forward," Rockefeller said in a news release. "I urge Century to do everything that it can to achieve what we have all been working toward – reopening the plant, putting people back to work, and restoring health care benefits that workers and retirees have earned."