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Century still reviewing PSC ruling

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Century Aluminum officials said Friday they still aren't sure what to make of a state Public Service Commission ruling that Jackson County residents hope will lead to the reopening of the company's plant in Ravenswood.

The PSC ruled Thursday that Century may have a special rate for electricity, as the company had requested, but the PSC said any risk that the company won't pay enough for its power would have to be assumed by the company, not other Appalachian Power customers.

"Our management team is currently reviewing the order in detail. We will be prepared to issue a more comprehensive statement once we have a thorough and accurate understanding of the PSC's decision and how it impacts our restart efforts," Century officials said in a statement.

Century's Ravenswood plant closed in 2009. Officials say in order to open the plant, Century would need a special rate for electricity based on the price of aluminum. The PSC's Consumer Advocate Division had argued against Century's proposal, saying that other Appalachian Power customers would see an increase in their bills.

PSC commissioners Michael Albert, Jon McKinney and Ryan Palmer issued a ruling Thursday that "rejects Century's proposal to place the risk of revenue shortfalls on other APCO customers," according to a statement from the PSC.

"It places that risk, instead, on Century, and requires Century and its parent company to enter into a corporate guarantee and undertaking with APCO to assure payment of any revenue shortfalls and to otherwise comply with the conditions of the order."

If Century accepts the PSC's terms, the company would have to enter into a contract with the commission until at least Dec. 31, 2021. The contract also could be extended to cover a full 10 years, according to the statement.

At the end of the contract, if Century paid more for electricity than it should, the first $200 million of the difference would go to reduce rates for Appalachian Power's other customers. Any overage above $200 million would be divided, with 75 percent going to Century and 25 percent going to reduce Appalachian Power rates.

If, because of low aluminum prices, Century hadn't paid as much as it should have by the end of the contract, Century would have to make up the difference with Appalachian Power.

When Century's Ravenswood plant shut down in 2009, more than 650 workers were laid off. Company officials have said about 450 jobs could be returned immediately if the plant reopens, and 200 jobs could be added later.

Hundreds of Century Aluminum retirees lost the health benefits promised to them under union contracts in July 2011. In March of this year, the retirees voted to accept a deal that would restore part of those benefits -- a step they hoped would help lead to the reopening of the plant.

"It is hard to know what Century will do. Until they react to the PSC decision, we don't want to comment," Karen Gorrell, who heads the Century Aluminum Retiree Committee, said Friday.

"If they accept it, hallelujah. If not, we are back to square one. I think it looks like a lucrative deal for Century. We hope they don't walk away from it. There is not a whole lot for the retirees to say until we know what Century decides."

Gorrell's group has been fighting to make Century keep its previous promises to provide health coverage to retired workers and their spouses.

Appalachian Power spokeswoman Jeri Matheny said Thursday that the company would support the PSC's new rate proposal.

"For the most part, we're glad the commission was able to reach what seems like a reasonable plan of action," Matheny said. She added that company officials are especially glad the newly proposed rate will put risk not on other Appalachian Power customers, but on Century.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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