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Commission gives Century more time to appeal rate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Public Service Commission on Wednesday granted Century Aluminum's request for more time to file its motion to a decision that could decide whether the company will reopen its shuttered Ravenswood plant.

Meanwhile, Appalachian Power officials said they would also ask the PSC to reconsider the decision to address their concerns over the plan.

Century attorney James Kelsh filed the motion with the PSC late Tuesday asking regulators to extend the deadline to Nov. 1. The PSC granted an extension Wednesday, but gave Century a deadline of Oct. 26.

Century announced Tuesday it would not be able to restart the Ravenswood aluminum smelter using the special rate the PSC granted last week.

The company had asked the PSC to grant a special rate that would help it restart the plant, which closed in February 2009, resulting in the loss of more than 650 jobs.

The decision gave Century power rates that were close to what it sought but left the company responsible for any risk associated with the plan.

Century originally wanted special rates tied to the price of aluminum. If those rates were too low to cover Appalachian Power's costs, Century proposed having other ratepayers pick up the shortfall.

The PSC denied that request. Instead, it required Century to pay for the shortfalls at the end of a 10-year rate contract.

In the end, Century said the rate structure detailed in the PSC's order did not go far enough to make a restart of the plant possible.

"The order includes several positive elements but, as it stands, is not sufficient for a smelter restart at this time," company spokeswoman Lindsey Berryhill said Tuesday.

Berryhill said the company intended to file a motion of reconsideration in the case.

Appalachian Power officials are also worried about how the structure of Century's special rate plan could affect their company, should Century move ahead with a restart.

Appalachian Power spokeswoman Jeri Matheny said the company's main concern centers on the fact that any shortfalls won't be paid off until the end of the 10-year plan.

With potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake - depending on how aluminum prices fluctuate - Appalachian Power may not be able to wait that long to recover its costs.

"We just have concerns about the level of potential risk to our company with this plan," Matheney said. "It's a really long period for us to take on that potential liability.

"It just depends on so much that we don't know, and it doesn't seem like there's all the definition we'd like to see (in the PSC rate structure)," Matheney said.  

The deadline for filing those motions was Oct. 15. However, Kelsh said Century needs more time.

Kelsh said the PSC's decision "resolves this case in a manner that had not been previously proposed by any of the parties to this case."

He said the company needed more time to evaluate how the PSC's rate structure would affect a plant restart and then prepare a reconsideration that fairly responds to the order.

While the commission granted the extension to Oct. 26, commissioners indicated in their response that Century might not have much ground to challenge their original decision.  

"The main differences between the Commission plan and that proposed by Century is that we placed the responsibility of revenue shortfalls on Century rather than burdening Appalachian Power Company and ratepayers," the commission said.

"Century may consider this assignment of risk as a resolution that had not been presented by Century, but it clearly was an issue in the case, and the Commission resolved that issue by placing the risk on Century rather than on other customers," commissioners said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.


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