Century Day 2: Investments, burdens and closing the gap - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Century Day 2: Investments, burdens and closing the gap

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West Virginia Public Service Commission Chairman Mike Albert reminded the participants in the Century Aluminum evidentiary hearing Tuesday to keep things brief.

"Bear in mind, basically, at least Appalachian Power, the (Consumer Advocate Division) and the (West Virginia Energy Users Group) are all on the same side, albeit different positions, and I'm not going to suggest you can't ask questions, but as we observed, the only people who get to ask softballs are the commission," Albert said with a laugh. "So, if you have clarifying questions that are important for your position, feel free to ask them."

The opening day of hearings went on for more than a full business day, but Tuesday's day two wrapped up before 4 p.m.

Before adjourning until 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Albert asked Steve Ferguson with Appalachian Power to return with a summary of any kind of proposal or counter proposal Appalachian Power could present that the power company believes would be fair and reasonable while still considering Century's position.

"I know you'll consider the problems ApCo has," Albert said. "If all you can do is re-state your proposal, that's fine. If you can do better, I'd like to hear it."

The lines of questioning on Tuesday revisited some of Monday's topics, such as how viable the Ravenswood plant that closed in 2009 could be, how much Century is willing to invest to keep the plant viable for the long term and just what may constitute an unreasonable burden to ratepayers.

Consumer Advocate Byron Harris took to the stand and reiterated his claim that Century's electricity rate should not be tied to its operating costs and even if the company does open its books to scrutiny from the PSC, the agency just isn't suited to auditing aluminum smelters.

PSC Commissioner Ryan Palmer confirmed with Gordon Hopper, site manager at Ravenswood, that the production costs outlined in part of his testimony were variable. Palmer then asked the Commission, if it found anything such as costs for labor, carbon or freight to be "imprudent or unreasonable," to modify or reject them.

"We'd have to give you our cause for why it would or wouldn't be," Hopper said. "If you can fix something we've done that's not right, I'm all for it."

The three buckets, tranches or levels of support – however is easiest to refer to them as it relates to Century's proposal for electricity also were scrutinized Tuesday.

Several numbers were questioned and clarified, and the London Metals Exchange rate price of aluminum on the market was referenced repeatedly.

The evidentiary hearing is expected to wrap up Wednesday. After that, the Public Service Commission is expected to issue a ruling in about a month.

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