Sunday, January 14, 2007

The incidental aluminun company

Rafe Mair wades into the debate over Alcan and the recent BCUC ruling as only he can, offering up some interesting background on the issue, as well as a strongly held opinion on what may happen in the near future.

Mair the former talk show host in Vancouver, now keeps busy with a number of projects including appearances on the Tyee website and Prince George's Opinion 250. His Alcan treatise appears on on the Prince George portal this morning , Mair tag teams with Prince George's Ben Meisner to provide a fairly vigorous rebuttal of the Alcan position.

He pulls no punches and delivers some pretty sharp conclusions about the power play in motion at the moment.

The Written Word: Rafe Mair January 14th
Rafe Mair
Sunday, January 14, 2007 03:45 AM

In a recent article, Ben Meisner, the voice of common sense from Prince George, examines the deal that would have had Alcan sell “new” power to BC Hydro with a mere 700% markup. (see Promises, Promises:One Man's Opinion)

The BC Utilities Commission, to the considerable surprise of the Campbell government which appoints its members, disallowed the deal. James Quail, legal counsel for the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, summed it up beautifully when he called it a "sweetheart" arrangement whereby Alcan is "turning water into gold" without consideration for Hydro customers who will have to bear the cost of the deal.

BCUC agrees.

Alcan takes the position that it should get market value “for its shareholders” which neatly ignores the fact that it can create this power cheaply because they don’t have to pay for the water, water that belongs to you and me, folks.

Now I admit I wouldn’t know a watt from a whatnot but I do know something about perfidious Alcan.

The original deal Alcan made with the provincial government back in 1948 was that if the company could reverse a river, create a lake or two and permanently screw up the Nechako River at the risk of the huge Sockeye salmon runs that pass through it, they could have power for its smelter "in the vicinity of the works."

It doesn’t take a Supreme Court judge to see that Alcan wasn’t given the right to create and sell power into the BC Hydro grid but that’s what happened.

Alcan has become, with deals with the provincial government, a power corporation that incidentally produces some aluminum.

Back in 1994 I had Bill Rich, then a vice president of Alcan and the irrepressible Ben Meisner, then a talk show host in Prince George, on my show to debate the Kemano II agreement and in frustration Rich blurted out that Alcan wasn’t just an aluminum company but was a power company as well. This in spite of the fact that the 1950 deal confined their power creation to the “works” and the “vicinity”.

The good folks of Kitimat have finally discovered that Alcan isn’t such a nice company as they thought. They’ve seen with their own eyes how aluminum production has been reduced, and jobs lose, so that Alcan could re-direct the power to BC Hydro and pocket huge profits.

Why hasn’t Alcan been legally held to the original deal instead of being permitted to break it? Why hasn’t the Province taken them to court and stopped them as one would any burglar?

The only person in the world which has the legal status to prevent this theft is the BC government and since they, through BC Hydro have been buying this power – in other words they are the “fence” for the burglar – they can’t sue. Since no one else can sue, Alcan and the Provincial government can continue to cock a snook at the original agreement and Alcan can go right on killing the smelter at Kitimat while promising new ones all over the province – that will never be built - in exchange for the right to take power from public waters and sell it back to us at outrageous rates.

Think of this folks – it wasn’t the Campbell government that stopped this outrage but by the BC Utilities Commission who owe their jobs to Mr. Campbell.

Unfortunately – and watch for it – the Campbell government will find a way to overturn this recent decision and Alcan will get the right to do it all over again. For if nothing else, the Campbell government looks after its friends even if it has to change the law to do so.

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