Officials at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. (CFAC) announced plans in December to close the plant, a move that would have put 200 people out of work. Now, after cobbling together an 11th hour energy-supply agreement with Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the plant will remain open for at least another few months.
According to CFAC spokesman Haley Beaudry, the plant’s original 60-day notice to close came after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December against BPA’s rate structure with aluminum companies in the Northwest. Beaudry says CFAC officials, along with the Flathead Electric Cooperative, members of the state’s congressional delegation and local Flathead legislators then set out to hammer out a compromise with BPA. They succeeded in securing affordable energy prices, but the deal is temporary.
Beaudry says the contract rendered moot by the Ninth Circuit ran from Oct. 1, 2006 to Sept. 30, 2011. The new agreement only bridges the remaining fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. However, the plant is only guaranteed to stay open until June, Beaudry says.
“The contract term is through September, but there are certain financial and market concerns that we have to address between now and the end of June to let us operate during that last quarter of this fiscal year,” he says.
If the plant can stay open through the end of the fiscal year, CFAC and Bonneville will have to agree on another bridge to reach the end of the original contract. After that, normal contract negotiations will resume, Beaudry says, and they will not be easy.
“The post-2011 negotiations were ongoing and in fact had pressed quite far by the time the court decision came in,” Beaudry says.
So will the two sides have to start from scratch?
“I guess nobody knows that answer,” he says. “We don’t know.”