As Session Nears Close, Kentucky Legislators Grapple with Smelter Issue

With only two days left in this year’s Kentucky General Assembly session, time is running out for supporters of legislation meant to keep two western Kentucky aluminum smelters—which employ about 3,000 people—from closing.

Under state law, the smelters are required to purchase electricity from the nearest company—Big Rivers Electric, in this case.  The smelters say lower aluminum prices have them struggling to pay the bills; they’re asking for more options for where they get electricity.

Their legislative supporters want to let the smelters purchase electricity on the open market.

Opponents argue that giving the smelters lower rates or open market options would increase prices for the average customer.

State Rep. Tommy Thompson, a Democrat from Owensboro, decried the possible loss of jobs if the smelters close—and argued that electrical rates still increase.

“Right now, if we don’t pass any legislation as relief and they leave here without that and go home,” he said. “The only option they have is to find a resolution with the other party, which they haven’t been able to for a year, and absent that everybody’s loses. The smelters close.”

But Thompson said he and his fellow smelter legislation supporters have plenty of options left.

“We’ve got a number of options even though the time is running short here in the session,” he said. “We can deal with it during the veto days. And we’re heard some comment, and I emphasize the word possibility, no commitment, but possibility that it could even been included in a special call session, as part of a special session.”

Lawmakers are currently on break, but will return on March 25.

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