No. 6: Century Aluminum’s Jackson County Saga Drew Scrutiny - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

No. 6: Century Aluminum’s Jackson County Saga Drew Scrutiny

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The bleak outlook for Century Aluminum's Ravenswood smelter started to shine a little in March when the West Virginia Legislature gave its blessings to a special electricity rate for high-intensity industrial consumers.

The Jackson County plant closed in 2009, eliminating 650 jobs, and eventually all health benefits for retirees were dropped.

Karen Gorrell, who became a spokeswoman for the Century retirees, watched the year's negotiations with a careful eye, because their agreement with the company to reinstate their health care benefits is tied to the restart of the plant.

Many Appalachian Power customers kept an eye on the story when Century's petition to the West Virginia Public Service Commission for a special rate included passing part of its cost to all other ratepayers.

The PSC received 130 letters from the public in protest of Century's special rate request.

Century entered into rate negotiations to reopen the aluminum smelter in the spring, but Appalachian Power President and COO Charles Patton said at that time his company realized Century needed help that would have to come from each ratepayer, and that kind of decision should come from the PSC.

Century filed with the PSC May 11, asking for a special rate, and after three days of evidentiary hearings in August, the 73-page order came Oct. 4.

Century said Oct. 9 that it would not be able to reopen the Jackson County smelter under that rate.

The PSC issued its final order in the case Dec. 14, denying any rate reconsideration hearing, which Appalachian Power and Century both requested.

"The Commission points out that if Century determines that it cannot reopen the plant with the special rate mechanism established in the October 4th order, it has the option to pursue discussions with the other parties in an attempt to reach an agreement for a more acceptable rate mechanism," the PSC stated in a news release.

Century said Oct. 9 that it would not be able to reopen the Jackson County smelter under the special rate the PSC established.

In a Dec. 18 statement, Century Spokeswoman Lindsey Berryhill said the company is still reviewing the PSC's final order.

Century also has the option to file another complaint case with the PSC to present a new proposal. The company modified its original proposal once before the August evidentiary hearings in the case and then outlined two other potential restart plans after the PSC's Oct. 4 order.

The other parties to the case – AEP, the PSC Consumer Advocate, PSC staff, West Virginia Energy Users Group and Steel of West Virginia – all objected to those plans.

The PSC's special rate mechanism expires Dec. 31, 2012.

If Century and Appalachian Power agree to the special rate, they must enter into a contract and file it with the commission; that contract will end Dec. 31, 2021, but could be extended for a full 10-year period from the signing of the contract.