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Ormet eyes options as decision looms

Sep 30, 2013 | 04:23 PM | Michael Cowden

Tags  Ormet, James Burns Riley, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Smelter Acquisition LLC, American Electric Power, rate dispute, aluminum smelter, aluminum prices LME


CHICAGO — Bankrupt aluminum producer Ormet Corp. is weighing its options ahead of a key electricity rate decision expected this week, chief financial officer James Burns Riley told AMM.

The Hannibal, Ohio-based company will seek to ramp up production as quickly as possible if the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approves its request for cheaper power, Riley told AMM in an interview Sept. 30.

Aluminum tags of $1,700 to $1,800 per tonne would "make it tough," he said. "But it’s also difficult to run a facility at basically a third of its capacity and make money in the smelting business."

However, any decision on whether to ramp up or keep running at current aluminum prices would need to be evaluated by a potential new owner, Riley said, adding that the potential buyer "has been pretty clear that he needs to have an economical electricity contract."

The primary aluminum cash contract ended the London Metal Exchange official session Sept. 30 at $1,803 per tonne, down 15.1 percent from a 2013 high of $2,123 per tonne Feb. 15.

However, if the utilities commission denies the request the company might liquidate, Riley said, noting that the commission’s decision could also be deferred. "Unfortunately, we’re dependent on them at this time."

Liquidation "would certainly be the last thing we would consider doing," he said, noting that Ormet would explore other options, including finding another buyer. "There are none (alternative buyers) at this point. ... But that is also based on the stalking horse bidder (Smelter Acquisition LLC) bidding almost all their debt value. So if they’re not going to be there, somebody else might be." He pegged the current bid value at about $130 million.

The utilities commission is expected to rule Oct. 2 on a rate dispute between Ormet and power supplier American Electric Power Co., Columbus, Ohio (amm.com, July 12), a commission spokesman told AMM Sept. 30. "Everything should be determined Wednesday."

Meanwhile, Ormet continues to look to cut costs, Riley said. Ormet, which currently pays in the low $60-per-megawatt-hour range for power at the Hannibal plant, is seeking a fixed monthly rate equivalent to what it paid in the first quarter of 2013, he said.

If Ormet gets a lower rate, it could move forward with plans to build its own generating capacity (amm.com, July 16), Riley said. "A bridge to a new (power-generating) facility, that’s what we’ve asked for."

Ormet is running two of six potlines in Hannibal at an annual rate of 90,000 tonnes with 650 workers, while its Burnside, La., alumina refinery is producing 500 tonnes per day, running at "a little over a third" of it rated annual capacity of 540,000 tonnes with about 220 employees, he said.




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