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Century aims for Ravenswood decision by end of 2d qtr

Keywords: Tags  Century Aluminum, Michael Bless, Ravenswood, West Virginia, restart, Public Service Commission of West Virginia, smelter, labor negotiations aluminum

CHICAGO — Century Aluminum Co. hopes to know by the end of the second quarter whether it will be able to restart its idled smelter in Ravenswood, W.Va., according to president and chief executive officer Michael Bless.

The Monterey, Calif.-based aluminum producer needs to resolve both power and labor contracts for the Ravenswood facility, but power is the “much” bigger concern of the two, Bless said during an April 25 conference call.

Bless noted that the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSC) has denied Century’s request for reconsideration of a proposed power agreement at the smelter (, Dec. 17).

In October, the PSC approved a special power rate for the 170,000-tonne-per-year smelter, which has been shut since 2009 (, Feb. 9, 2009). It agreed to link Ravenswood’s power contract to the price of aluminum on the London Metal Exchange, but denied Century’s request to pass on some of the costs to utility Appalachian Power Co.’s other power users, including some residential customers (, Oct. 4).

The Ravenswood smelter, like Century’s Hawesville, Ky., smelter, could be a “productive plant with a long-term future” under the right power agreement, Bless said (see related story, page 1). “There is the potential to access in whole or in part the wholesale (power) market,” he said. If Century were able to do that, it might have “what we would need in order to reopen (the Ravenswood) plant,” he said.

Sal Tharani, an analyst with New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc., asked whether the lack of a power contract was the only thing preventing a Ravenswood restart. Bless conceded that Century also needed to negotiate a new labor contract with workers at the facility.

But Bless stressed that the company has not had any conflicts with its Ravenswood workers. Century has had “a lot of preliminary discussions” with employees at the smelter, but both sides realize that it “doesn’t make any sense” to sit down and hammer out a new contract until a power deal is reached, he said.

“We are reasonably confident that (a labor deal) could be done in a reasonably quick period of time once we got a power arrangement,” Bless said.

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