Columbia Falls Aluminum to Shut Down by End of the Month

By Beacon Staff

Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. announced Wednesday that the company will curtail all production at the end of October.

CFAC spokesman Haley Beaudry said it is not a “going-out-of-business notice,” but the plant must shut down all processes since they are still without a long-term power contract.

The company had previous contracts with the Bonneville Power Administration, but the agreements ran out on Sept. 30. CFAC went on the open market for power without jeopardizing its position as a Bonneville customer earlier this month.

Beaudry said CFAC is still in the open market for a power contract, and they are still considering a contract with Bonneville.

But even if CFAC finds a good, long-term power contract before Oct. 31, Beaudry said the plant does not have enough raw materials to keep working. Those must be ordered on a long-term basis as well, he said.

The company had been able to buy discount electricity from the Bonneville, a quasi-governmental outfit that for decades sold at-cost electricity to big industrial customers. But with an increase in population came an increase in demand for cheap hydropower, pitting industry against other users.

The amount of at-cost power available to industry was diminished and eventually was replaced entirely by a subsidy that helped the aluminum company and others buy down the cost of electricity.

Critics successfully argued that the subsidy was too large and came at the expense of other rate payers, and in December a court ordered the Bonneville Power Administration to end its subsidy to Columbia Falls Aluminum.

Bonneville and the aluminum producer put together a “bridge agreement” that carried the company through Sept. 30, but that deal also was successfully challenged.

The power administration cut the company loose, and the plant has struggled since the beginning of October to buy electricity from private producers.

There have been shutdown announcements at CFAC since last December, when the company gave 200 workers 60-days notice of closure because of increased costs for raw products and decreased costs for aluminum. The plant remained open through July, however, running on decreased capacity.

Workers were given another 60-day notice of closure in July, but production was extended again through August and once more for September.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.