Flathead Beacon: Moving in the Right Direction

The announcement that Bonneville Power Administration has proposed a deal that could lead to the restarting of production at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company was met throughout the Flathead Valley last week with cautious optimism. For many, the potential for the facility to reopen and employ hundreds serves as a sign that, despite any economic upheaval, Northwest Montana’s traditional industries may be down, but they most certainly are not out.

Since the end of 2009, CFAC has been shuttered due primarily to the high cost of power needed to run the plant and the increasingly competitive nature of the global market. But last week representatives of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) announced a proposal to sell 140 average megawatts to CFAC at the industrial firm power rate. That rate is set at $36.32 per megawatt hour through the 2013 rate period.

The four-and-a-half year contract, beginning April 1, would provide enough power for the smelter to get two of its five pot lines up and running. The contract would also require CFAC to employ 231 full-time employees to run the facility. CFAC officials are considering purchasing power at market rate to get a third pot line in production, which could employ an additional 70 people.

“From BPA’s perspective, we consider the positive effect of creating all those jobs in the Northwest,” Bonneville spokesman Mike Hansen said. “That is one of the reasons we stipulate that in our proposed agreement.”

Read the whole article »