THE world's biggest aluminium company has committed itself to the long-term future of Jamaica's bauxite industry.
UC Rusal has promised to turn its three plants on the island into "base locations", which stay open all the time, rather than "swing locations" that work only when prices peak, Phillip Paulwell, minister of science, technology, energy, and mining told Parliament yesterday.
In particular, the Moscow-based company said it would keep the Ewarton refinery open at no less than half its 600,000-tonne capacity, safeguarding the jobs of 600 workers, for at least a year.
The announcement comes almost three months after Paulwell told Parliament that UC Rusal intended to close the Windalco refinery at Ewarton, an assertion that the Russians promptly denied.
UC Rusal dominates the bauxite and alumina sector in Jamaica, controlling three of the islands four refineries and almost two-thirds of installed alumina production capacity of 4.34 million tonnes per year.
Paulwell also announced that the Bauxite Levy Concession Agreement will run from Monday to September 30 next year.
The Ewarton refinery will become a base location as of 2015.
UC Rusal will also invest US$100 million ($8 billion) in a coal-fired electricity generating plant.
Work on this plant, said Paulwell, will commence with engineering at the end of the first quarter in 2013 and will be completed by 2015. Eight hundred people are set to be employed in the construction phase.
Full production of alumina at Ewarton will resume once construction of the coal plant is complete.
The company owns and operates the Ewarton Works and the Kirkvine Alumina Refinery and is the majority shareholder — and by virtue of its 93 per cent shareholding, the managing partner — in WINDALCO, the operator of the refineries.
Alumina refining at both WINDALCO plants at Kirkvine in Manchester and Ewarton, St Catherine ceased in 2009. But the Ewarton refinery was re-opened in July 2010.