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Economic and dam related articles

Intalco Plant Continues to be Worth Supporting

by Editorial Board
The Bellingham Herald, June 28, 2009

We are pleased to hear that officials with the Bonneville Power Administration and Alcoa are nearing a deal to keep the Alcoa Intalco Works smelter open and operating.

BPA officials last week affirmed last week that they are still willing to provide low-cost power to the smelter, which employs about 500 people at a facility west of Ferndale. Our support for Intalco's continued power supply has never been just about saving jobs or a local institution. It has always been about what is fair.

For years, Intalco and other aluminum smelters in our state gave the BPA a steady, high-demand for the power it generates at its electric dams and other facilities. But the region has grown tremendously, with much more power demanded for use in homes and businesses. The BPA has a legal responsibility to provide power to public utility districts first, despite the fact that Intalco and other such facilities carried the federal agency financially in its early years.

We understand that times change. And we know the region BPA serves has seen amazing population growth in the past 25 years.

But Intalco and the direct power purchasers should not be punished for that.

In that spirit, we encourage our federal representatives to continue to guide BPA to do the right thing by Intalco. Plant officials say the plant needs at 320 megawatts of power to operate two of its three potlines and a longer-term contract for power of seven years or more. Anything less and the plant is in danger of failing in a tough global marketplace.

It's a testament to the workers and leaders at the Intalco plant that it continues to operate. The changes in power price and demand, and the changes in the world economy, have closed nearly every aluminum plant in the Pacific Northwest.

We salute our local workers and management for continuing to fight to keep our plant running.

Manufacturing jobs are important. The jobs at Intalco pay well, and most economists agree that those kinds of jobs have a higher "multiplier effect" in the community - meaning manufacturing jobs create more support jobs than do those jobs in the retail or service sectors, for example. Manufacturers have suppliers, engineers and maintenance and construction companies that rely on their existence.

The number of people who work in manufacturing has dwindled across the country, though, and that is also the case in Whatcom County. Protecting the manufacturing jobs we do have is an important part of any economic development strategy for our community. Good economies don't rely on one sector, instead having a balance between a lot of different types of employers and jobs. We need the high-paying industrial jobs at Intalco.

So we encourage officials with Alcoa and BPA to continue their work and hammer out a final deal. It's important to Whatcom County, and it's the right thing to do.

Editorial Board
Intalco Plant Continues to be Worth Supporting
The Bellingham Herald, June 28, 2009

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