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CFAC Runs Out of Power Options

by Staff
The Daily Inter Lake, October 22, 2009

Plant shutting down on Oct. 31

Columbia Falls Aluminum along the upper Columbia River downstream of BPA's Hungry Horse Dam, Flathead Valley, Montana

Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. will curtail all production on Oct. 31, putting 88 people out of work.

"The plan is that it's not a permanent shutdown, but we don't have any timeline of when it's going to reopen," CFAC spokesman Haley Beaudry said.

The firm was unable to reach an agreement on electricity with Bonneville Power Administration despite months of negotiations.

CFAC has in the past negotiated five-year contracts with Bonneville. The most recent contract was supposed to extend from Oct. 1, 2006, until Sept. 30, 2011, but because of a lawsuit filed by a number of West Coast cooperatives, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruled that CFAC's contract didn't fit with the Northwest Power Act and was therefore void.

CFAC and Alcoa, which once was the largest aluminum manufacturer in the world, entered into bridge agreements that spanned the time from which the contracts with Bonneville were voided - Dec. 1, 2008 - until Sept. 30, 2009. Alcoa has reached a new seven-year contract with Bonneville.

Adding to the industry's woes is a nine-year supply of aluminum - 4.5 million metric tons - currently on the market, Beaudry said.

The laid-off workers will qualify for the Trade Adjustment Act, which provides retraining and education. Beaudry said there is a federal program workers can apply for that will assist them in paying insurance premiums.

"It's still a very hard hit on the community and the northern part of Flathead Valley," Beaudry said. "It's especially hard on the families here in Columbia Falls."

The aluminum plant has been in business since 1955 and has weathered a variety of economic storms and shutdowns in its 54-year history.

In 2001, the plant endured its first full shutdown; the facility was idle for 13 months. Since then the plant's production has ranged from 10 percent to 60 percent of capacity.

CFAC Runs Out of Power Options
The Daily Inter Lake, October 22, 2009

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