BC Hydro-Alcan power sale deal approved

KITIMAT, BRITISH COLUMBIA - British Columbia's utilities regulator has approved an electricity sales agreement between Crown-owned BC Hydro and Alcan Inc. for power sales from Alcan's Kemano powerhouse in northern B.C., clearing the way for Alcan's $2-billion smelter upgrade in nearby Kitimat.

Kitimat City manager Trafford Hall said the new deal is an improvement, but that the city's fundamental opposition remains: Alcan is being allowed to sell electricity rather than using it to smelt aluminum.

“This has hurt us, hugely,” he said, adding that the company has yet to commit to the modernization project. “We think this talk about the modernization project is smoke and mirrors.


The city is studying the 174-page decision to see if it has any recourse for appeal.

Alcan could not be reached for immediate comment.

When Alcan, now owned by Rio Tinto, announced the smelter upgrade in 2006, one of its conditions was for a new power-sales agreement with BC Hydro. But a previous deal between BC Hydro and the aluminum company was rejected in late 2006 as not being in the public interest.

The new agreement does not impose any conditions on Alcan to make good on its plans to upgrade its smelter.

In its decision, the British Columbia Utilities Commission said it “concludes that the decision as to whether or not to proceed with the modernization project rests with the Board of Directors of Rio Tinto.”

The decision also noted that Alcan's evidence suggests the smelter upgrade is more likely to be completed with the acceptance of this 2007 agreement “than any of the alternatives proposed by intervenors.”

In a statement, BC Hydro CEO Bob Elton said the agreement means ratepayers will benefit from a long-term contract and reasonably priced electricity.

Kitimat and Alcan have been sparring over the Kemano project for more than a year, since the BCUC rejected the original deal between the aluminum producer and BC Hydro. In December 2006, the utilities commission struck down that arrangement, saying the deal was not in the public interest and raised concerns over price, echoing comments from critics that the company would receive an artificially high price for its electricity.

In the spring, Kitimat appealed a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that allowed Alcan free rein to sell power from its Kemano project, but then decided to enter into talks with the company instead. Those discussions broke down in August. In the fall the town filed a brief with the utilities commission opposing the proposed power-sale agreement.

Alcan pointed to the power agreement as one of its critical ingredients for board approval of the smelter upgrade, saying a refusal would jeopardize the modernization project “big time.”

The modernization effort would not only increase the efficiency of the Kitimat operations, but would allow Alcan to significantly curb its greenhouse gases.


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