CHARLESTON - Reaching an agreement on a reasonable power rate is key in getting the Century Aluminum plant in Ravenswood restarted, company officials said Wednesday following hearings in Charleston before the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
Officials with Century and Appalachian Power have been in hearings before the PSC for the past few days.
The hearings, which were scheduled to conclude Wednesday, were for both sides to present arguments and evidence in regard to a power rate the company would pay to start up the Ravenswood plant.
Century has filed a petition for approval of a special power rate with the PSC. A decision could be made by early September.
Officials with Appalachian Power are concerned the proposed rate would be adjusted based on the global price of aluminum. If the prices for aluminum drop, more than 500,000 residential, and commercial, customers would pay more for electricity to offset what the plant uses.
Century recently revised its proposal to address some of these issues, but officials with Appalachian Power still have concerns over possible impacts to their customers.
Century Aluminum is fully committed to restarting the Ravenswood smelter, said Century spokesman Lindsey Berryhill.
''Attaining a power rate that will allow us to restart the Ravenswood smelter is our primary focus at this time,'' she said. ''If Century's modified special rate proposal is approved by the PSC, we will immediately begin hiring employees to commence operations.
''We can make this commitment because the special rate would lower our cost of electricity in times when aluminum prices are low and smooth out fluctuations in our electricity cost over time.''
Berryhill said the best independent evidence is that the proposed special rate would not cause any other ratepayer to pay more for its electricity over the term of the special rate.
''In fact, as aluminum prices climb Century would pay more for electricity and potentially reduce power costs to other ratepayers,'' she said.
The company has invested $54.7 million in the plant in recent years and is prepared to invest an additional $90 million to restart operations, officials said. If the plant is restarted successfully, the company is planning to invest up to another $44 million, officials said.
''...we plan to operate the plant for the duration of the proposed special rate period and for decades beyond,'' Berryhill said. ''We believe that the PSC hearings this week were informative and productive, and that we were able to clearly establish the need for and appropriateness of the special rate for the Ravenswood smelter.
''We wish to thank all the interested parties for the time and effort they have devoted to helping make this a productive process, and we look forward to the PSC's decision in September."
In March, the retirees of Century Aluminum accepted a deal with the company that would restore some of their lost health benefits and open the way for the Jackson County plant to reopen. However, the reestablishment of those benefits was tied into the plant being back in operation.
Karen Gorrell, who has represented the Century retirees, had said she attended the PSC hearings, but could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.