CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Public Service Commission continued gathering testimony on Tuesday about Century Aluminum's plans to reopen its plant in Ravenswood if it can get its electric power bills reduced.
Aluminum manufacturing uses especially large amounts of electric power to refine raw materials and roll out aluminum sheets.
In negotiations, Century Aluminum and Appalachian Power could not reach an agreement about Century's proposed rate reductions.
Witnesses testified Tuesday about current market conditions that keep the plant closed and its impact on the city of Ravenswood. But others talked about the downside of saddling West Virginia electricity customers with higher utility bills.
The PSC hearings will end Wednesday; the commission hopes to release its decision later this month.
Michael Albert, chairman of the three-member PSC, said, "This is a difficult case. This will be a difficult decision."
John E. Hoerner, vice president of North American operations for Century Aluminum, testified, "We would like the opportunity to open that plant today. But with existing power rates, we can't open the plant.
"We cannot run that plant with these kinds of power prices. At present market conditions, we would not start that plant."
Century Aluminum President Michael A. Bless had said previously that the company is proposing power rates that would vary as the selling prices of aluminum rise and fall.
Hoerner also testified about expenditures that Century plans to make to reopen the plant, which shut down in February 2009 due to dropping aluminum prices. Prices dropped sharply between October 2008 and April 2009.
If the plant reopens, Hoerner said, it would immediately hire 470 employees, including people who were working at the plant when it closed in 2009 and want their jobs back.
"Century will also hire 140 additional employees to refurbish our facilities and to make the plant more efficient," he said. "At full capacity, the plant would have 674 employees."
If the plant reopens, Hoerner said, Century would make a startup investment of $90 million, then another $44 million for long-term upgrades.
Former Ravenswood Mayor Lucy J. Harbert said, "Century's closing devastated the community of Ravenswood and other small towns.
"Our food banks are regularly emptied. People can't pay their utility bills. There are empty storefronts, and people are using a lot more drugs.
"We have retirees who have lost all of their benefits. I don't think they should have been taken away."