State News

Alcoa moves to gain support for NC dam operation

Posted December 21, 2010 4:38 p.m. EST
Updated December 21, 2010 7:32 p.m. EST

— Executives with one of the world’s largest producers of aluminum are going on the road in an effort to gain support for the company to continue operating hydroelectric dams along North Carolina’s Yadkin River.

According to the state Department of Commerce, the four dams generate an estimated $20 million to $100 million a year in profits for Alcoa, which once employed hundreds in an aluminum plant near the river.

North Carolina officials, including Gov. Bev Perdue, oppose Alcoa’s operation of the dams, saying the company makes a profit while the state receives no benefit. They want to regain control over the dams and the electricity they produce.

Alcoa’s chief sustainability officer, Kevin Anton, is traveling the state, meeting with groups and officials to create what he calls a win-win for everyone.

He says Alcoa is committed to better water quality, investing millions into the hydroelectric dams and redeveloping its old plant site into an industrial complex.

“We're invested in it heavily. We think – we know – we’re the right operator of this asset,” Anton said. “We've got a great story to tell. We've got one person to convince (Perdue), in addition to the rest of the state.”

This month, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources revoked a key certification needed for Alcoa to operate the dams for up to 50 more years.

Regulators said the company failed to detail the project's ability to meet the state's water quality standards.

Anton disagrees.

“I think we're pretty confident that material information wasn't withheld from the state, and that's what we intend to show them over the coming days and weeks,” Anton said.

A withdrawal of North Carolina's certification would essentially block Alcoa from getting federal approval.

Federal regulators were expected to make a decision on Alcoa's application in 2011, but the timeframe is now unclear since the state revoked the certification.