Australian Federal, State Governments Team Up With Union to Restart Alcoa’s Portland Smelter

Australian Federal, State Governments Team Up With Union to Restart Alcoa’s Portland Smelter
Portland's Bayview College. Source: Wikimedia

Alcoa’s plant in Portland, Victoria, Australia is assessing the damage left after a five-and-one-half-hour power outage last week. Although the damage to the smelter may be significant, the Australian federal government has taken the surprising step of pledging to help the plant get back on its feet.

The plant, whose ownership is split among Alcoa World Alumina and Chemicals, 55% (owned by Alcoa 60% and Alumina Limited 40%), CITIC 22.5% and Marubeni 22.5%, has a nameplate capacity of 345 thousand metric tons per annum. It lost power on Thursday when a power interconnector on the border between Victoria and South Australia went offline.

Such a loss in power can be significantly damaging to equipment, as the loss in power allows molten aluminium to solidify within the potline’s cells. Once hardened, the aluminium in the pots must be chiseled out.

“We are now beginning to assess the operational impact of the outage and, given the significance of this event, we have substantial challenges and analysis ahead of us. As that work is completed, we will provide an update,” said Alcoa in a statement released shortly thereafter.

The plant was already on tinterhooks prior to the outage. However, the Australian government has taken the unorthodox step of partnering with Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews and the plant’s labor union to take steps to assist in helping the plant return to operation.

In an effort to avoid losing the smelter to a breakdown in the relationship among the relevant parties, Federal Industry Minister Greg Hunt and Victorian industry minister Wade Noonan are spearheading an effort to get those parties at meetings aimed at getting the plant up and running.

“The State and Federal Governments recognise the importance of Alcoa’s Smelter to the Portland community and local jobs for the region,” said the ministers in a joint statement.

“Our priority will be to remain in close contact with Alcoa as the company assesses the full extent of the impact from the power outage,” the statement went on.

These events come at a time when Alcoa is attempting to renegotiate a power deal with AGL Loy Yang. The previous deal, which was considered by some to be quite generous, expired in October.

A shutdown of the plant would cost up to 2,000 jobs in the area.