Western Ky. aluminum plant tells employees it will close if electric rates not cut

HAWESVILLE — A Western Kentucky aluminum smelter has notified employees that it plans to shut down operations on Aug. 20 unless it can get lower electric rates.

Century Aluminum has been in negotiations with its power supplier, Big Rivers Electric, for more than a year. Both parties told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer on Tuesday they are still trying to negotiate a deal before time runs out.

Legislation to lower the smelter's electric bills was introduced during the General Assembly but was pulled because of misinformation that surrounded the issue.

Century gave a 12-month notice last year to Big Rivers saying it would not renew its power contract. The plant in Hawesville employs about 700 workers.

Century spokesman Mike Dildine said Tuesday's notice fulfilled a federal requirement to let workers know that cuts are planned. He said it coincides with Century giving notice to its largest customer, Southwire Co., that it would terminate its contract unless a power agreement is reached.

"Typically, that is a 60-day notice," Dildine said. "We felt that since our contract with Southwire is a four-month notice, we should let our employees know, too. We are still doing everything we can to get a competitive rate — on the government side and with (Big Rivers)."

Century President and CEO Michael Bless said in a statement that the company is discussing "an arrangement that we firmly believe will have no impact on any other ratepayer in the state, today or in the future. That said, time is running short, and without a prompt agreement, we will call upon the elected leaders of the commonwealth to intervene with a solution."

Big Rivers spokesman Marty Littrel said he thinks the two companies can reach an agreement. "We've been having meetings, and we have other meetings planned this week," he said. "I think we're moving in the right direction. We believe that if they're sincere in this, then we have the time to make this happen."