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PSC: Century, Appalachian Power fail to reach agreement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Public Service Commission announced Friday afternoon that Century Aluminum and Appalachian Power have not reached an agreement about lower electricity fees.Agency officials and a steelworkers union representative indicated that the lack of an agreement would prolong PSC approval of the electric fees and delay the plant's reopening.The PSC plans to begin its own review of the situation.However, Randy Moore, a staff representative from the United Steelworkers, which represents workers at the Century Plant in Ravenswood, said he believes there are no major disagreements between Century and the power company.As a condition of reopening the plant, Century said it needed lower electric rates.Raamie Barker, a senior adviser to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said, "I have faith larger heads will prevail. There is too much at stake to lose this. We won't lose it."I have not seen it or read it [the PSC statement], but we will get it worked out."When Century closed its plant in Jackson County on Feb. 15, 2009, it laid off 651 workers. If the company reopens the plant, 450 jobs would be restored almost immediately. Another 200 jobs could be added later.Last July, Century's retired workers lost all company health benefits they were promised under union contracts.Susan Small, a spokeswoman for the PSC, released the agency's statement Friday afternoon. "The Public Service Commission today received a filing from Century Aluminum which indicates that Century and Appalachian Power Company could not agree on an acceptable special rate for electric service to Century."Under recently-passed legislation [by the state Legislature], the parties must attempt to reach an agreement or, if no agreement could be reached, the industrial customer could file a complaint with the commission."The failure to reach an agreement leaves the commission with the obligation to determine whether or what type of rate recovery is appropriate."The PSC was disappointed that the parties could not reach an agreement regarding the terms and conditions of a special rate in order to reopen the Century Aluminum plant," the PSC stated.Moore said, "This is not any surprise to me, but it is not indicative of any bad relations between Century and the power company. We have known there was not going to be a joint filing, but I can't discuss why that is."
Moore said there are good relations between Century and American Electric Power, but that the steelworkers were "hoping, sometime back, that a joint filing" would expedite things."AEP is very supportive of the filing [by Century].  . . . We thought we could get a ruling from the PSC some time in June. That isn't going to happen," Moore said. "Realistically, we are looking to the middle of August right now, due to this process."Moore said he can understand the PSC's statement, since the agency "has not been at the table with the parties. We still remain very optimistic."We would encourage the PSC to move this process forward as quick as they can," Moore said, "but it is still a fragile thing and has many hurdles to cross."Karen Gorrell, whose husband, Mike, worked at the Ravenswood plant for 33 years, has been a leader of retirees fighting to get their health benefits back.On March 15, the retirees voted to accept a deal with the company that will restore part of those benefits.
"This deal seems like it is going to take a lifetime, compared to what we originally thought," she said, "and they won't work to get the plant fired up until the end of that process."It will take four months of construction work to get the plant repaired and ready to go. I understood that Appalachian Power and Century already had an agreement."I hope they get things resolved. A lot of us are still uninsured, so some [laid-off employees] face risks every day. But we have to remain optimistic," Gorrell said. "Everyone worked so hard to make sure this is good for everybody -- Jackson County, the laid-off workers and the state."But our hearts will not be able to beat normally until the last 'i' is dotted and the last 't' is crossed," she said.In her news release, Small noted that legislation gives the PSC the right to establish "special rates that in its judgment are necessary or appropriate for the continued, new or expanded operation of energy-intensive industrial consumers and that can reasonably be expected to support the long-term operation of energy-intensive industrial consumers."Small also said the special rates should "not impose an unreasonable burden upon electric public utilities or other customers."The PSC stated that if Century and Appalachian Power had provided it with a mutually agreed special rate, the commission's review would have taken place more quickly."However, because there is no agreement in place, the commission is required to investigate, review and consider the positions of all parties in this matter," according to the PSC statement. "That will be a more prolonged and complex proceeding that will delay the commission's ultimate decision."More information may be obtained at the PSC's website: www.psc.state.wv.us.Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.
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