Rio Tinto boss lauds B.C.’s clean energy as trade advantage – by Nelson Bennett (Business Vancouver – September 26, 2017)

Kitimat aluminum smelter facing stiff competition from huge production in China

When Gervais Jacques was invited to speak to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade last week about the $6 billion modernization of an aluminum smelter in Kitimat in 2014 and 2015, the context of the discussion was free trade with the U.S. The U.S., after all, is a major customer for B.C. aluminum.

But Jacques’ talk ended up sounding more like a promotion for large-scale hydroelectricity for heavy industry and manufacturing – something Jacques called “the Canadian advantage.”

It was B.C.’s hydro power potential that drew Alcan to B.C. to build the Kemano hydroelectric dam, completed in 1954, and aluminum smelter. It was at the time the largest private investment made in B.C. With a workforce of 1,000, the smelter is Kitimat’s largest employer.

Between 2014 and 2015, the smelter again saw one of the largest private investments made in B.C. in recent years when RioTinto (NYSE:RIO) spent $6 billion modernizing it. The investment in the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter increased its production capacity 50% and reduced its emissions 50%.

The new smelter has been in operation for one year.

“The combination of technological innovation and clean-renewable, reliable hydro power here in British Columbia allows us to produce aluminum with one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world at Kitimat,” said Jacques, who is managing director of Atlantic operations for Rio Tinto. For most other metals, smelting is done through heat. The metals are literally melted.

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