Century Aluminum permanently closes Ravenswood, WV plant

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Closing ending a years-long battle with public officials, former employees and utility companies, Century Aluminum announced at 8 p.m. July 27 it will permanently close its Ravenswood, WV plant, effective immediately.

The Ravenswood smelter had been idled since February 2009, putting 650 employees out of work. The company eventually eliminated health insurance coverage for its retirees after the closure.

“The decision to permanently close the Ravenswood plant is based on the inability to secure a competitive power contract for the smelter, compounded by challenging aluminum market conditions largely driven by increased exports of aluminum from China,” Century’s statement reads. “As a result, the economics of restarting and operating the facility are unfavorable.”

WV Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a statement July 27, saying he has asked Century to reconsider its decision.

“We have worked diligently with the company as well as local, state and federal officials to find a solution that works for all parties, and we remain willing to offer assistance moving forward,” Tomblin said. “If this decision remains final, I encourage Century Aluminum to work cooperatively with its retirees to address their benefit needs, and the West Virginia Development Office will assist in marketing the site to a new user.”

In July 2014, Century CEO Mike Bless said restarting the Ravenswood plant was “right at the top of our focus list,” and that the company was “working hard” to get the plant back in operation. Bless said the company had made continual investments in the plant and he had been in discussions with Appalachian Power.

Bless echoed those statements in the company’s July 27 news release.

“We have worked diligently with local, state and federal officials, along with the power company, to reopen the smelter but we have been unable to secure a long-term, competitive power contract,” he said. “We are convinced that all of these parties did everything within their ability to support our efforts to restart the Ravenswood smelter, and we are grateful for their commitment.

“We deeply regret the impact of this action on our employees and on the local community and share in the profound disappointment. We will now turn our attention to the efficient disposition of the facility; we are committed to working with state leadership and the other relevant constituencies in this endeavor.”

As recently as May 2015 Bless talked about the negotiation with Appalachian Power during the company’s earnings report. Century reported net income of $73.8 million for the first quarter of 2015, compared with a loss of $20.1 million in the first quarter of 2014. Sales for the first quarter were $587.9 million, compared with $420.8 million for the first quarter of 2014. Shipments of primary aluminum for the first quarter were 245,258 tonnes compared with 206,785 tonnes shipped in the first quarter of 2014. 

The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill in 2012 to set up a tax credit and to allow a special power price for energy-intensive, industrial consumers. The new law required such consumers to request the rate from the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, which Century did in May of 2012. In October, a 73-page order came from the PSC, and Century said it could not reopen the Jackson County smelter under the rate. Both Appalachian Power and Century Aluminum requested a rate reconsideration hearing, which was denied in October 2012. In 2013, Century acquired an aluminum smelter in Sebree, Kentucky.

The Ravenswood plant, built in 1957, has four potlines with a full operating capacity of 170,000 tonnes per year.

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