Power Woes Idle Aluminum Workersby H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
Idaho Statesman, August 10, 2001
"It's a ghost town," 1 worker says of Washington plant.
MEAD, Wash. -- It is midmorning and Kaiser Aluminum's smelting plant should be humming with activity. But as Mark Amas, a pipefitter and welder, swings his car into the plan't near-empty parking lot, there is silence.
"Everything's shut down. It's a ghost town," he said. The huge conveyor belt that once dropped tons of raw aluminum ore into smelting pots stands idle. The pot rooms are closed. The bake furnace is on cold standby.
Amas, 51, who began working at the plant 27 years ago, attracted by the good pay and job security, hasn't been inside its fences since December.
He was among the earliest victims of the West's power crunch.
Once employing more tan 7,000 workers, the Pacific Northwest's 10 aluminum plants are now idle and likely to stay that way for some time because the juice that powered them is too expensive and is needed elsewhere.
California's energy crisis, with its soaring prices, and sporadic blackouts, has eased, thanks to colloer weather and a rush to conservation. But for the aluminum workers in the Northwest, the surging cost of electricity in a region known for its cheap power is still leaving its imprint. It has changed lives, in some cases forever.
Over nearby Hawthorne Street, power lines that once sent enough electricity into Kaiser's Mead plant to light most of nearby Spokane now carry only a trickle of juice from a substation -- enough for a few dozen workers to keep up plant maintenance.
In June, the Bonneville Power Administration, the government power marketer that provides half the electricity to the Northwest, reached a power buyback agreement with most aluminum companies, idling the region's plants until at least next April, and perhaps as long as two years.
The agreement gave the BPA 1,200 megawatts of badly needed electricity for other customers. In return, BPA pays the aluminum companies for not using the power, allowing most workers to continue to get partial pay.
But Kaiser is not part of the agreement. And while BPA remains obligated to provide it power, the company, based in Houston Texas, hasn't decide whether to resume opeartions in October, when higher electricity prices kick in.
Electricity Market Turns on Kaiser by John Stucke, Spokesman Review
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