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Industry Info

Rio Tinto invests in French aluminium plant to cut power costs

Business Recorder reported that Rio Tinto has invested nearly EUR 80 million in its Dunkirk aluminium plant in the past 18 months and plans to invest at least that much again over the next 5 years on energy saving and efficiency improvements.

The largest aluminium plant in the European Union with 2012 production of 260,000 tonnes seaside Dunkirk is the biggest single point user of electricity in France consuming 485 MW per hour or half the output of one nuclear reactor at the nearby Gravelines site.

As Rio Tinto's 25 year contract with French utility EDF expires at the end of 2016, its electricity bill which adds up to 23% of production costs could rise as much as 80% from 2017 as contract prices catch up. But Rio Tinto is investing heavily to improve efficiency.

Mr Colin McGibbon plant director of Rio Tinto said that the firm's main challenge is to avoid this increase but we confident about reaching a deal with EDF. We need an energy agreement that gives us sufficient visibility and value so that we can keep investing here. We think that is achievable. Rio Tinto has already covered half of its post 2017 electricity needs through Exeltium, a consortium of companies that buys power in bulk via long term contracts with EDF.

He said that talks with EDF about the rest could include a contractual adjustment for uranium price swings and the provision of demand-response facilities allowing EDF to briefly shut down the plant to balance its network during periods of peak demand.

An energy agreement for Rio Tinto's other French plant, the 135,000 tonne Saint Jean de Maurienne plant in the French Alps was not so easily achieved and Rio Tinto is negotiating with Germany's Trimet Aluminium AG about a sale of the plant.

A Rio Tinto official said that Trimet has made a firm offer but if no deal is reached by the end of June, the option to close the plant remains on the table. Rio Tinto's two French plants together consume nearly 6 terawatt hours of electricity per year, compared with 6.5 TWH per year for all France's steel plants combined and about 9 TWH per year for the entire French railway system.

Source - Reuters