CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As part of a package to try to entice Century Aluminum to reopen its Ravenswood plant, state lawmakers and the Public Service Commission agreed to let Century pay a lower rate for its electricity than other power customers.
Century officials rejected the deal crafted by the PSC, although the company still says it wants to work with the PSC and Appalachian Power to find a deal suitable for everyone.
But Century isn't the only business in West Virginia that faces problems. If state officials were willing to give Century a break on its electricity rates, would they do it for other companies as well?
The answer seems to be no. The bill passed by state lawmakers earlier this year - which would use coal severance taxes to cut Century's power bills by nearly $20 million a year for the next 10 years -- was crafted specifically for Century, and other companies might not find lawmakers and others as eager to help.
"You have to be sensitive to try to save as many jobs as you can. Obviously, Century needed some type of assistance," said state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. "But you don't necessarily want to become a partner with them, or a stockholder."
Kessler said state lawmakers will be very cautious passing any legislation to help companies reduce their electric bills.
"We will be careful in getting into this. We will try to create mechanisms, without legislation, to help subsidize some of their electric bills," he said.
Several state officials and business leaders said trying to give one company lower electricity rate, while making it up on the backs of other industries and consumers, wouldn't fly. In the ruling that Century rejected, the PSC said the company couldn't put that risk on others.
If Century, or any other company, were allowed to shift its electric power costs to other companies and to consumers, that would create major problems, said Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
"Utility costs matter to employers and individuals. The costs of electricity and natural gas are major costs to employers," Roberts said. "When regulators put in place measures that make electricity more expensive, employers often make decisions based, at least in part, on those costs.
"Historically, one of the advantages West Virginia has had is almost the lowest costs for electricity and natural gas in the country. If those costs go up, we will lose that advantage, making it harder to keep West Virginia in the game."