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Century says PSC offer not enough to restart Ravenswood plant

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Despite the state Public Service Commission's offer of a special rate for electricity, Century Aluminum will not restart its Ravenswood plant at this time, the company announced Tuesday.

The PSC's ruling "is not sufficient for a smelter restart," Century spokeswoman Lindsey Berryhill said in a prepared statement.

"Century is seeking an enabling power contract that would allow us to operate the plant continuously, well into the future," Berryhill said. "We regret that the current order does not meet that need."

The PSC ruled last week 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.

Century officials said Friday they needed more time to review the nearly 80-page decision.

Appalachian Power spokeswoman Jeri Matheny said Tuesday that the company "has problems with parts of the order based on the potential risk for our company." Like Century, Appalachian Power plans to file a motion for reconsideration with the PSC.

The Ravenswood plant closed in 2009. Century officials said in order to reopen the plant, the company 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.

In their ruling, PSC Commissioners Michael Albert, Jon McKinney and Ryan Palmer tried to balance the interests of all Appalachian Power ratepayers and Century by recognizing a special statute related to Century as well as the impact on the economy, Byron Harris, director of the PSC's Consumer Advocate Division, said Tuesday.

Harris said Century's rejection of the PSC's ruling "is disappointing, that's for sure."

"Century was just asking for too much and the commission walked a very delicate line to try to balance those interests," Harris said Tuesday. "It's hard to know what they're asking for. It's hard for me to think of anything they could ask that would be acceptable for other customers. If it's anywhere close to what they were asking for in the case, it's just not realistic."

Harris would not speculate about what could happen now that Century has rejected the PSC's decision. "It sounds like, from the tenor of their press release, they're going to be asking for a lot," he said.

Century said the company 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."

During a gubernatorial debate Tuesday night, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he would do everything he can "to get those jobs back in Ravenswood." Tomblin said he would work with Century and Appalachian Power to re-open the plant.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a phone interview Tuesday that Century and the PSC are still talking and "want to revisit the issue."

"I respect the Public Service Commission for doing its due diligence. I do not believe the general public should be put at risk. That was [the PSC's] decision," Manchin said.

"I am hoping they can sit down and reach an agreement to create the jobs we need. I think the PSC worked hard and came to a good decision. And it is always good if they are still talking."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., said in a news release that Century's decision to not move forward in reopening its smelter is "deeply disappointing news."

"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."

Karen Gorrell, whose husband worked at Century's Ravenswood plant for 33 years, has been leading the retirees' movement to win back pension benefits taken away from them after the company shut the plant down.

In March of this year, 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.

On Tuesday, Gorrell called Century's decision "pretty disheartening." She said Century retirees would meet Tuesday night, and declined further comment until after that meeting.

As for Jackson County residents, who hope for the reopening of Century's plant, Harris said, "I'm sure they're disappointed. How could they not be?"Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113. Reach Paul J. Nyden at 304-348-5164 or pjnyden@wvgazette.com.


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