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Panel denies electric rate cut for smelting plant

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri utility regulators denied a request Wednesday from the state's largest electricity consumer to cut its electric rates by about 25 percent and pass the difference along to other customers of Ameren Missouri.

In an order accompanying its 5-0 vote, the Public Service Commission said it was unconvinced by Noranda Aluminum Inc.'s assertion that it faced a "liquidity crisis" or that the rate cut was crucial to the future of its large smelting plant in southeast Missouri.

Noranda pays Ameren about $160 million a year in base electric rates to power the New Madrid smelting plant, which has nearly 900 employees. The company said the reduction it requested in February would amount to about $48 million.

Noranda estimated its request would increase rates for Ameren Missouri's 1.2 million other customers by 1.8 percent or less, although Ameren put the figure at more than 2 percent.

The Public Service Commission took note of Noranda's contention that the smelter is crucial to Missouri's economy, saying it "certainly does not want the smelter to close."

But it said the company had failed to prove that the state and its citizens would be hurt more by the plant's closing than by reducing its electricity costs.

"While we are disappointed with the PSC's decision to deny Noranda rate relief at this point, we remain committed to transforming our cost structure and to reducing the cost of New Madrid's electricity," Noranda president and CEO Layle Smith said in a statement. "We will thoughtfully evaluate our alternatives for accomplishing our objectives and provide additional information at an appropriate time."

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