Regional Report Charlotte February 2011
Those who smelt it now get dealt with
Alcoa Inc. is learning the hard way that e-mails never go away. They just resurface during legal proceedings. Late last year, state environmental officials yanked the aluminum maker’s clean-water certificate to operate four hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River, saying that internal e-mails released at an administrative trial showed Alcoa had misled regulators about the effectiveness of its actions to improve water quality.
Without that certificate, New York-based Alcoa can’t finalize its application to renew its license to operate the dams another 50 years. The dams used to power Alcoa’s smelter complex in Badin, which opened in 1917 and closed in 2007, and the power is now sold into the wholesale electricity market. Gov. Beverly Perdue wants the state to take over the dams. She says Alcoa no longer deserves the license, because the manufacturing operations that were the company’s reason for building them have closed. Alcoa argues that the e-mails just show what one official calls “a healthy debate” about technical issues and that the company is committed to water quality. It plans to appeal the revocation, but it also is adopting a more conciliatory tone toward locals in Stanly County and politicians in Raleigh.
With Alcoa had long sought to separate the smelter from the dams, arguing that closing the first shouldn’t have any bearing on relicensing the second. Now, it’s putting the search for a new tenant for the smelter property front and center. “We know it’s really a separate issue,” says Kevin Anton, Alcoa’s chief sustainability officer. “But the former smelter site is being linked to the hydro project. We’ll accept that — that the community looks at Alcoa as one — so we are committed to redeveloping that site.” The company will spend $10 million this year tearing down 25 buildings at the Badin Works.
With The company hopes that bringing industrial jobs back to recession-ravaged North Carolina might break the standoff between it and Perdue’s team. Others involved aren’t so sure. Carter Wrenn, a longtime political consultant, has been working with the North Carolina Water Rights Committee, which supports the state’s efforts to take over the dams. “There’s a question of ‘Can we trust you?’ Alcoa’s deception right much eliminates that middle ground. The question becomes whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission opens up the license process and lets others apply for it.”
With While there is a process for federal regulators to take back, or “recapture” a license from an existing operator, it has never been done. Three years ago, FERC said recapture wasn’t an option for the Yadkin project. Alcoa still says it is best suited to run the dams, but experts following the controversy say to look for more litigation — and negotiation — in the year to come.
Charlotte-based snack maker Lance Inc. and Pennsylvania-based Snyder’s of Hanover Inc. combined to form Snyder’s-Lance Inc. Based in Charlotte, it’s the nation’s No. 2 salty-snack company, behind Dallas-based Frito-Lay, and has the top ranking in pretzels and sandwich crackers. Executives say the heftier company will have more clout with retailers. Lance CEO David Singer kept that job with the combined company. Snyder CEO Carl Lee Jr. became chief operating officer.
Duke and Progress agree to plug into one other
Charlotte-based Duke Energy Corp. is buying Raleigh-based Progress Energy Inc. in a $26 billion deal that will create the nation’s largest electric utility when it closes at the end of the year. The combined company will provide power to most of North Carolina and have 7.1 million customers in six states. Duke CEO Jim Rogers will become executive chairman; Progress CEO Bill Johnson will be president and CEO. The deal boosts Charlotte’s bid to become an energy hub.
CHARLOTTE — Bank of America took steps to contain looming legal costs. It will pay Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac nearly $3 billion to cover bad mortgages the agencies bought from the bank’s Countrywide Financial unit. Critics called the agreement a gift to the bank and a “backdoor bailout.” BofA also agreed to pay $137 million to settle regulators’ complaints about a bond bid-rigging scheme.
SALISBURY — PGT Industries plans to close its window factory by the end of June, idling about 490. Production will be consolidated at its headquarters in Venice, Fla. It might reopen the plant when housing rebounds.
CHARLOTTE — Shaw Power Group will add 225 workers, mostly engineers, bringing its local workforce to about 1,325. Part of The Shaw Group, based in Baton Rouge, La., it provides engineering and construction services for the energy sector.
CHARLOTTE — BAE Systems plans to spend $3 million to open an office that will employ 176, starting in the second quarter. They will do human-resources and financial work for the London-based military contractor.
CHARLOTTE — United Way of Central Carolinas reached a $700,000 settlement with former chief executive Gloria Pace King (cover story, April 2009). She was fired in 2008 after public outcry over her compensation, which exceeded $1 million her last year. The settlement ended a discrimination and wrongful-termination lawsuit she filed against the nonprofit.
CHARLOTTE — Advertising agency Red F Marketing will add 60 jobs within three years, for a total of about 100. Annual wages will average $47,167 a year; the Mecklenburg County average is $48,776.
MOORESVILLE — NGK Ceramics USA, which makes material for automobile catalytic converters, plans to spend $43 million and add 60 jobs, for a total of about 490, by year-end. It is part of Japan-based NGK Insulators.
DENVER — Hydac Technology, a German maker of cooling systems, will open a factory next year and employ 54. Wages will average $43,220 a year. The Lincoln County average is $29,224.