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Baucus, Tester Push for Power Deal

by Richard Hanners
Hungry Horse News, October 10, 2011

A Columbia Falls Aluminum Company worker is seen in this file photo. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester recently met with the Bonneville Power Administration administrator Stephen Wright about finalizing a power contract with the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. so the smelter could start up again.

BPA's proposal would supply CFAC with 140 megawatts of power for four and a half years, enough electricity to run two of the plant's five potlines and employ about 230 workers.

According to BPA account specialist Mark Symmonds, the starting price would be about $36 per megawatt-hour for at least 24 months, at which point the price could be contested. If Glencore International, the Swiss commodity-tradiing company that owns the plant, purchases 70 more megawatts on the open market, the plant could run a third potline and hire up to 300 employees.

Baucus, who has advocated on behalf of CFAC for several decades, continued his push for a new contract.

"It's my hope that BPA gets the message loud and clear - it's time to reopen Columbia Falls Aluminum Company and bring back hundreds of jobs in the Flathead," he said. "It's time to get a deal done to get people back to work so they can provide for their families."

In June, Baucus wrote to Wright and Glencore urging them to press forward with an agreement and asking them to consider rehiring laid-off CFAC workers. He and

Tester wrote to Wright again in May reiterating their support for an agreement. Baucus encouraged public input on the proposed sales agreement following BPA's open-house presentation at Glacier Discovery Square in Columbia Falls on Aug. 1.

Tester has also been pushing hard for an agreement.

"I reminded BPA that reopening CFAC is the right thing to do for Northwest Montana and for our manufacturing industry," he said. "I'm still pushing both sides to reach an agreement that reopens this plant and brings back hundreds of jobs to the Flathead Valley, and I will keep doing so until employees go back to work."

CFAC lost BPA power following a 2008 court case and shut down completely in October 2009 after running on spot-market power and using any raw materials that could be scrounged up around the plant for about 10 months.

A new power contract, however, is not the only problem CFAC faces. The plant's outmoded equipment is in bad shape after sitting idle for so long, finding skilled workers with specialized knowledge about the plant will be difficult, and CFAC no longer owns storage and shipping facilities on the West Coast for the raw ore that comes from Australia or other sources.

BPA accepted comments on the proposed power sale through Aug. 31. The quasi-official federal agency says a decision could come this winter following completion of an "equivalent benefits test" and an environmental analysis. A draft version of the first task was available for review at the Aug. 1 open house in Columbia Falls.

Richard Hanners
Baucus, Tester Push for Power Deal
Hungry Horse News, October 10, 2011

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