CFAC Makes Its Case for Powerby John Van Vleet
Hungry Horse News, December 7, 2005
The Bonneville Power Administration may hold the future of Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. in the palm of its hand.
Bonneville is in the process of planning its wholesale power rates for the fiscal years 2007 through 2009, and several concerned CFAC employees turned out to a public meeting held last week in Kalispell to urge the power provider to maintain low rates in order to keep the aluminum plant afloat.
The meeting was a presentation by Bonneville about the rate-setting process, followed by a public comment session in which CFAC officials read prepared statements about the need for Bonneville to keep the rates as low as possible.
Jim Stromberg, CFAC's chief power supply officer said that the plant and the jobs are vital to the Columbia Falls community.
"We are providing about 150 of the best-paying jobs in the valley," he said. "But we are struggling." Saying that CFAC is "very threatened by the high cost of power," Stromberg said that the plant is "going to be forcing closing its doors" if the rates continue to climb. CFAC is currently running at about 20 percent capacity, a major result of the skyrocketing power costs for the aluminum industry.
Bonneville has historically been a wholesale power provider to public power utilities and numerous industries, and markets the electricity it produces from hydroelectric dams stationed in the Pacific Northwest in the Columbia River drainage.
In recent years, however, Bonneville has backed off providing such low-cost power to the aluminum industry in order to focus more on its public utility consumers, forcing aluminum smelters throughout the region to shut down operations.
Terry Smith, president of the Aluminum Workers Trades Council, represents the CFAC union workers and said that right now, only one issue is hanging over everyone's heads.
"Specifically, power cost is the most important issue facing us," he said.
In its proposal, Bonneville outlined the approach it will be taking in providing power to its industrial consumers, proposing a limited subsidy that could result in fluctuating prices due to market instability.
For CFAC, its payment would not be more than $14.7 million annually, paid on an adjustable scale, with payments of $24 per megawatt for 70 megawatts of power or $12 per megawatt for 140 megawatts. The plant has said it hopes to run two potlines at 140 megawatts, but could still function on one potline at 70 megawatts.
Bonneville is accepting comments from the public on this issue until Feb. 13. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, submitted through the company's Web site at www.bpa.gov/comment or through the mail at Bonneville Power Administration, Communications - DK-7, P.O. Box 14428.
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