Aluminum maker to upgrade U.K.’s 65-MW Lochaber

Aluminum maker Rio Tinto Alcan announced a 45 million pound (US$90 million) investment in modernization of its Lochaber aluminum plant in Scotland primarily involving replacement of turbine-generators at its 65-MW Lochaber hydroelectric project.

Rio Tinto Alcan said January 30 that the modernization work is to begin in 2009 and be completed by 2012, ensuring increased use of clean renewable energy for aluminum production.

�The 45 million pound investment to power our Lochaber plant not only secures its future but shows our commitment to improving energy efficiency, increasing our usage of fully renewable energy and, in turn, our levels of production,� President Jacynthe Cote of Rio Tinto Alcan Primary Metal said. �Thirty-six percent of our smelter energy needs are met by clean, self-generated hydroelectricity, a tremendous competitive advantage.�

Lochaber’s generating units have been in use since their installation in 1929. The new units will have the potential to generate additional power, the aluminum company said. It is expected the upgrade will increase aluminum production to 50,000 tons per year from 43,000 tons.

The hydropower scheme diverts water from several streams, lochs, and reservoirs to Lochaber powerhouse and into the River Lochy.

Hydropower contract prompts Alcan to expand Canada smelter

Rio Tinto Alcan also announced January 30 that it reached a new agreement with BC Hydro on sale of power to the utility from Rio Tinto Alcan’s 896-MW Kemano hydropower plant in Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada.

The aluminum maker said the agreement, which was approved by the British Columbia Utilities Commission, allows it to proceed with a US$2 billion expansion of its smelter in Kitimat.

The company said the agreement means the smelter’s electricity needs will have priority over any other power sales. It said that would allow Rio Tinto Alcan to adjust its power sales to BC Hydro depending on the final configuration and power requirements of the modernized smelter.

Expansion of the smelter would lift the plant’s annual output of primary aluminum by 125,000 tons, Rio said. The company said its global aluminum production would increase 3 percent as a result.

The power agreement is the last of three conditions imposed before work on revamping the smelter could proceed, following resolution of a labor agreement and environmental permitting. Alcan of Canada, which was acquired by Rio Tinto late last year, hired U.S. engineering firm Bechtel in June 2007 to draw up a detailed feasibility study and confirm cost estimates and scheduling for the expansion of the smelter. (HNN 7/13/07)

In 2004, the town of Kitimat filed suit to require Alcan to use power generated at Kemano to restore aluminum smelter production and local jobs. The suit alleged outside sales of power to BC Hydro hurt Kitimat’s economy by cutting smelter production and jobs. The B.C. Utilities Commission rejected an earlier contract to sell power to BC Hydro due to concerns over price and the public interest.

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