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Century optimistic about US, Iceland

Keywords: Tags  Century Aluminum, Michael Bless, Big Rivers Electric, Hawesville, Ravenswood, Mount Holly, Grundartangi, Helguvik Iceland


CHICAGO — Century Aluminum Co. is optimistic that it can restart or maintain operations at several facilities in the United States and Iceland as long as it can secure competitive power agreements.

The Monterey, Calif.-based company secured a better power agreement for its facility in Mount Holly, S.C., and thinks it should be able to do the same at its facilities in Hawesville, Ky., and Ravenswood, W.Va., company president and chief executive officer Michael Bless said during a conference call.

"We strongly believe there is a consensus that this country ought to have a strong indigenous primary aluminum supply, especially for key industries like aerospace and the electrical grid," Bless said.

Century saw its Hawesville operations improve throughout 2012, with conversion costs down $250 per tonne in the fourth quarter compared with the same period a year earlier, Bless said. But that hasn’t been enough to offset a "crisis" with Century’s current power supplier, Henderson, Ky.-based Big Rivers Electric Corp., he said.

Despite the production improvements, Hawesville "is not viable" without a better power deal, Bless said. Century is therefore pushing for legislation in Kentucky that could allow it to access power on the open market, something that could potentially save the company as much as $50 million per year and keep Hawesville "viable for years to come," he said.

Thousands of jobs and much economic activity is at stake if Century’s Hawesville plant and Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter in Sebree, Ky.—which together account for approximately 70 percent of the utility’s power load—cannot achieve better power deals with Big Rivers, Bless said.

Century is looking to link a portion of its Ravenswood smelter power costs to prices on the London Metal Exchange, savings that would be necessary to justify restart costs of about $90 million, Bless said.

In Iceland, Century is looking to boost hot metal capacity at its Grundartangi smelter by about 15 percent over the next four years. The project, which is ahead of schedule, will cost approximately $65 million, with about 40 percent of expenditures this year, he said.

The Grundartangi expansion has been made possible in part by Century’s acquisition of Zeeland Aluminum Co., a 150,000-tonne anode facility in Vlissingen, the Netherlands ( amm.com, June 11). But restarting just half the anode plant, or one furnace, is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million, with the restart of another furnace another $10 million to $15 million, Bless said. The bulk of the capacity expansion at Grundartangi, which produced at an annual rate of 289,000 tons in the fourth quarter, won’t occur until 2014 and 2015, he added.

Century also is looking to have its Helguvik, Iceland, aluminum plant up and running "as early as possible" in 2013, assuming a favorable power agreement can be negotiated, Bless said. "We’re reasonably confident that something ought to get done one way or another this year and get that project back up and running." For the moment, however, Century has decided to close down the plant for the winter, Bless said.

Questioned by an analyst on whether Century might look to expand in the Middle East, Bless balked. "I would never say ‘no.’ ... (But) I wouldn’t wait up at night for us to announce a Persian Gulf project," he said. The question came after Bless noted that, with the exception of some large projects in the Persian Gulf, most new aluminum production capacity is coming from greenfield projects in northwest China.


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