Ohio Governor John Kasich suggested Monday that bankrupt Ormet Corp.'s troubles are tied mainly to the weak global aluminum market, and that the state has provided more than its share of financial aid to the embattled US aluminum producer.
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Kasich, a first-term Republican, did not respond specifically to pleas by the United Steelworkers union last week that he personally intervene in a last-ditch effort to save Ormet and its 260,000 mt/year Hannibal smelter. All six potlines at the smelter in southeastern Ohio are now idled in the wake of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission's October 3 decision to approve only a portion of the electricity rate relief sought by Ormet.
"Ohio wants to see Ormet succeed and has provided more than $300 million in support to the company," Kasich said in a statement released by his press secretary, Rob Nichols. But, "the state of the aluminum market means that not even that huge subsidy has been enough."
The PUC lowered Ormet's power costs to $50/MWh, less than the $57.99/MWh it has been paying to American Electric Power, but still more than the $45.99/MWh Ormet said it needed to keep Hannibal in partial operation for the remainder of 2013.
The commission also rejected Ormet's request to extricate itself from a longstanding power purchase arrangement with AEP and start buying power on the wholesale power market starting in January 2014. AEP opposed the request.
With Hannibal essentially shut down, except for about a dozen maintenance workers, Kasich's focus now has turned to securing unemployment and other benefits for the nearly 1,000 laid-off workers at the smelter.
According to Kasich, meetings have been held with local leaders "to start getting workers and their families the help they need, and that work will continue because we're committed to seeing this through."
Ormet has said the PUC's refusal to grant the requested rate relief means the company will not be able to emerge from Chapter 11 reorganization. Ormet filed for bankruptcy on February 25 in Delaware.
In a bankruptcy court filing last week, Ormet affirmed that Smelter Acquisition LLC, a portfolio company owned by Minnesota's Wayzata Investment Partners, will not waive conditions it imposed earlier this year before taking Ormet out of bankruptcy.
Wayzata, a private investment firm, and Smelter Acquisition have insisted on acceptable rate relief for Hannibal before moving forward with a $282 million purchase of Ormet approved June 4 by US Bankruptcy Judge Mary Walrath.