Montana Aluminum Plant To Shut Down

COLUMBIA FALLS, Mont. (AP) -- High energy prices are forcing Columbia Falls Aluminum to shut down at the end of October, leaving 88 employees out of work.

The company had been able to buy discount electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, a quasi-governmental outfit that for decades sold at-cost electricity to big industrial customers. But with an increase in population came an increase in demand for cheap hydropower, pitting industry against other users.

The amount of at-cost power available to industry was diminished and eventually was replaced entirely by a subsidy that helped the aluminum company and others buy down the cost of electricity.

Critics successfully argued that the subsidy was too large and came at the expense of other rate payers, and in December a court ordered the Bonneville Power Administration to end its subsidy to Columbia Falls Aluminum.

Bonneville and the aluminum producer put together a "bridge agreement" that carried the company through Sept. 30, but that deal also was successfully challenged.

The power administration cut the company loose, and the plant has struggled since the beginning of October to buy electricity from private producers.

"Right now, we have no power contract," company spokesman Haley Beaudry said. "We've been in the open market, the commodity market, for the entire month of October."

He noted that in this month alone, prices have soared from about $35 per megawatt hour to nearly $50 per megawatt hour.

"The prices (of electricity) have gone way up, way beyond what you can make aluminum at," he said.

Beaudry said he thinks the plant will eventually reopen, but it could be months away even if an immediate deal were struck with Bonneville.High energy prices are forcing Columbia Falls Aluminum to shut down at the end of October, leaving 88 employees out of work.

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