COLUMBUS - Noting the potential closure of Ormet Corp. would "cause irreparable harm to Hannibal and its surrounding communities," U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown urged the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to cut the aluminum producer a break.
Hearings at the PUCO regarding Ormet's request to pay a lower American Electric Power rate continued Wednesday, said commission spokesman Matt Schilling. A final decision in the matter is not expected until at least October, according to Ormet President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Tanchuk.
Brown, D-Ohio, hopes the commission will allow Ormet to stay in operation.
"Rising electricity costs are crippling the plant's competitiveness," said Brown. "Its closure would cause irreparable harm to Hannibal and its surrounding communities and our country's ability to produce aluminum. The company is asking to buy electricity at market rates, instead of the increased rate that has been imposed."
Tanchuk said Ormet wants to generate its own electricity by late 2015 via a planned natural gas power center. In February, Ormet filed for bankruptcy in U.S. District Court in Delaware. The company later announced a planned $221 million sale to Minnesota-based Wayzata, but the transaction required convincing the PUCO to allow Ormet to have lower AEP bills until it can begin generating its own power.
However, officials with AEP and the Ohio Consumers' Counsel have said granting Ormet additional power discounts could increase bills for about 1.4 million customers across the Buckeye State, many of whom live hundreds of miles away from the Hannibal facility.
John Puskar, staff representative for the United Steelworkers, said there are about 600 employees working at the plant now that it has reduced operations to two of its six potlines. Ormet recently filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice in preparation for a total shutdown.