CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After an attorney for Appalachian Power gave the state Public Service Commission an alternate plan for a rate break for Century Aluminum in Ravenswood, PSC officials said a ruling would probably come next month.
Century insists it needs reduced electric power rates to reopen its aluminum smelting plant in Ravenswood, because its operations consume so much electric power and because the price of aluminum is so volatile.
The reduced power rate was one of the conditions Century insisted on in a tentative deal to reopen the Ravenswood plant. When Century and Appalachian Power could not reach an agreement about proposed rate reductions, the dispute was sent to the PSC.
The PSC ended three days of hearings Wednesday morning. All interested parties must submit their final legal briefs by Aug. 15 and all their responses by Aug. 22.
PSC Chairman Michael Albert said the PSC would "get an order out as quickly as possible thereafter."
A ruling is likely in mid- or late September, PSC officials said. Century had requested that the PSC decision be issued this month.
Under a proposal from Century to the PSC, "the average resident's bill [would increase] over three years between $3.35 a month and $5 a month," said Byron Harris, director of the PSC's Consumer Advocate Division.
"That will be $66 million a year [for Century] for each of those three years," Harris said.
Steve Ferguson, director of regulatory affairs for Appalachian Power, gave the PSC an alternative to Century's plan on Wednesday. He said it wasn't an official proposal from the power company, but rather an attempt to answer their request for a different plan.
"Apco has offered compromises to Century. The question is, will Century accept them?" Harris said after Wednesday's hearing.
Harris said the decision facing the PSC "is so difficult that it is hard to predict. This is not like an ordinary case before the commission."
Century Aluminum issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying the company "is fully committed to restarting the Ravenswood smelter.
"We have invested $54.7 million in the plant in recent years and are prepared to invest an additional $90 million to restart operations. Upon a successful restart, we will invest up to another $44 million, and we plan to operate the plant for the duration of the proposed special rate period and for decades beyond."
Century has asked for a sliding scale that would peg the rate it pays for electricity to the price of aluminum on the world market. If the price is low -- as it is now -- Century would pay less, and other ratepayers could be asked to make up the difference.
"Appalachian Power has about 400,000 customers in West Virginia, some commercial and most residential," Harris said. "The majority of people, struggling to pay their bills, don't want another increase in their electric bills."
When Century's Ravenswood plant closed in February 2009, it had 470 employees.
If the plant reopens, Century plans to immediately hire 470 employees to operate the plant, and will rehire workers it laid off. Century also plans to hire 140 additional employees to refurbish the aging plant to make it more efficient.
Karen Gorrell, whose husband worked at the Ravenswood plant for 33 years, has led the retirees' movement to win back their health benefits since Century closed.
"We love our state," she said at Wednesday's hearing. "Nothing would make us happier than to see manufacturing jobs come back.
"We want our state and everybody to bend over backwards to help Century. But we can't put the burden on ratepayers.
Looking at Albert, the PSC chairman, Gorrell said, "I think you have been put in a terrible position."Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164