A new 10-year electric power supply contract signed Friday, Dec. 7, ends years of job uncertainty for 625 Alcoa Intalco Works employees.
More than 100 workers gathered at the aluminum smelter's Totem Terrace assembly hall west of Ferndale to watch Bonneville Power Administration boss Steve Wright and Alcoa executive Bob Wilt sign the deal, first announced in October.
Also on hand were U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Gov. Chris Gregoire, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and U.S. Rep Suzan DelBene, along with many local officials.
"You can have a great Christmas because we've got 10 years ahead of us and, we hope, a lot more," Wilt told the crowd.
Intalco and its employees have survived some tense times the past 10 years, as power supply disruptions led to the shutdown of most of the other aluminum smelters in the region and idled Intalco for a time. Alcoa officials repeatedly warned that the smelter would have to close permanently without a contract guaranteeing long-term access to BPA's supply of relatively low-cost hydropower.
In recent years, Intalco has been operating with shorter-term power contracts that left workers fearful of what might happen next.
The walls of the meeting room were decorated with "Wright is Wrong" and "Wright is Still Wrong" T-shirts - souvenirs of the days when members of Intalco's International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers' local traveled to BPA's Portland, Ore., headquarters to protest BPA's initial reluctance to provide the power deal the company wanted.
Wright, who is about to retire, told the crowd that his wife still wears those T-shirts around the house. Union representative Pat Flaherty presented him with a pair of new shirts emblazoned with "Wright is Right."
"It's a great day," Flaherty said before the event began. "We've been fighting this thing for 10 years. A lot of people have put in a lot of effort for it. ... The partnership between the company and the union has been a major part of today's celebration."
Jonathan Arestad told the gathering that he had been looking for work for about eight months after leaving the U.S. Air Force. He got a job at Intalco just six weeks ago, wondering how long the job might be there for him.
"Up until the signing of this, it seemed as if everybody's job was on the line," Arestad said.
The deal will provide Intalco with 300 average megawatts of power through September 2022. The company will pay an industrial rate that averages about $36 a megawatt, which is $6 more per megawatt than public power utilities pay when they buy BPA power.
Three hundred megawatts is equivalent to about one-fourth of the power supply at Seattle City Light.
Intalco plant manager Barry Hullett acknowledged that it takes a lot of power to turn ore into aluminum. But once the aluminum is made, it makes cars lighter and more fuel-efficient, and can be recycled to new uses with just 5 percent of the power required for the original smelting.
"We do require a substantial amount of energy to produce aluminum," he said. "We recycle that initial investment over and over again."
The Intalco smelter can produce 279,000 metric tons of aluminum a year.
As a part of the deal with BPA, Alcoa agreed to invest $35 million in capital improvements during the next seven years, in order to keep the contract in force for the full 10-year term.
"May you and the Northwest thrive forever," Wright told the gathering.
Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or email@example.com. Read his Politics Blog at TheBellinghamHerald.com/blogs.