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Big Rivers, Century try to resolve power row

Keywords: Tags  Rio Tinto Alcan, Big Rivers Electric, Mark Bailey, Century Aluminum, Hawesville, Sebree, Kentucky legislature, Rep. Tommy Thompson Sen. Joe Bowen

CHICAGO — Century Aluminum Co. and Big Rivers Electric Corp. hope to negotiate a solution to the dispute over power at the aluminum producer’s Hawesville, Ky., smelter, according to sources familiar with the issue.

If the two sides are able to reach an agreement on how to manage costs potentially associated with Monterey, Calif.-based Century leaving the Big Rivers system, legislation introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives regarding the issue would be unnecessary, Rep. Tommy Thompson told AMM Feb. 15.

But if the two sides can’t reach a deal, "we’ll probably come back next week and vote the bill out (of committee) and move the legislation forward," according to Thompson, who introduced the bill Feb. 5.

A similar bill was introduced in the Kentucky Senate by Sen. Joe Bowen earlier this month (, Feb. 12).

"We don’t want to deregulate the industry," Thompson said. "But in this extreme case, if we don’t provide some legislative relief for (the smelters), we face losing 3,000 jobs. And we just can’t accept those consequences."

Thompson was referring to jobs at both Century and Rio Tinto Alcan, as well as ones indirectly related to the smelters. He stressed that the legislation would only impact the smelters and not other large industrial power consumers.

The House bill was brought before the Natural Resources and Environment Committee Feb. 14, but it was decided that no vote would be taken to encourage Century and Big Rivers to negotiate a solution, Thompson said. If the bill had been approved in committee, it would then have moved to the full House for a vote.

Big Rivers president and chief executive officer Mark Bailey told AMM that Century representatives had contacted his company and expressed a willingness to hammer out an agreement. "We’re very happy (about) it," he said. "It (initially) appeared like Century was putting all their eggs in a bill’s passage rather than negotiating with us."

Century didn’t respond to a request for comment.

It remained unclear what role Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan has played in the power issue in Kentucky, with Thompson characterizing the company as being "on the sidelines" of the debate despite its having a stake in its outcome.

"We have given notice to Big Rivers, and we are evaluating options for the future of the plant," a spokesman for Rio Tinto Alcan told AMM Feb. 15.

Rio Tinto Alcan announced plans to divest 13 assets, including the Sebree smelter, in October 2011 (, Oct. 18, 2011).

An interested party is said to be seriously mulling an acquisition of Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter in Sebree, Ky., perhaps as part of a bid to get a better power rate for the facility, several market sources have told AMM (, Feb. 8).

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