CONCERNS about the future of hundreds of staff at Northumberland’s biggest private employer yesterday reached Parliament.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery asked Energy Secretary Chris Huhne about the Alcan plant, at Lynemouth, in the Commons.
Owners Rio Tinto are trying to sell the site, which includes a smelter and a power station, but have acknowledged the plant may close if a sale is unsuccessful.
The developments come amid warnings that green taxes have hit energy intensive industries like aluminium-smelting hard.
Proposals to convert Alcan’s coal-fired power station to biomass have also been put forward, but the company has said it was waiting for details of how the Government would support green energy production.
The Government also yesterday outlined how its plans to subsidise green electricity though the “renewables obligation”.
Under the scheme, suppliers have to show they have sourced a certain proportion of power from renewables with different credit awarded to different types of power.
In the Commons, Mr Lavery said: “The Secretary of State is aware of the situation at Rio Tinto Alcan at Lynemouth in my constituency. Some 650 private sector jobs are hanging by a thread.
“The company says that the problem is the green taxes implemented by the Government, which will wipe out £50m in annual profit.”
He asked for details about Government support for green electricity production and energy intensive industries.
“Can he assure the House [of Commons] that those packages combined will prevent mass job losses in the energy-intensive industry sector?” added Mr Lavery.
Mr Huhne confirmed he had discussed the plant with Rio Tinto, adding: “It is regrettable that it made its decision ahead of the publication of the renewables obligation.”
He also said: “The energy efficiency package for energy-intensive industries will be in place by the end of the year. In our discussions with Rio Tinto I asked the company whether it would give a guarantee about local employment if it received the support that it wanted in converting the electricity generation plant to biomass. It did not give that guarantee. That is regrettable.”
The proposals by Rio Tinto were also part of a wider worldwide programme, said Mr Huhne.
But Rio Tinto Alcan corporate affairs director John McCabe said: “We haven’t taken a decision about the future of the Lynemouth plant. What was announced earlier this week is that the plant faces sale or closure.
“Our preference is, of course, to sell it rather than close it. But no decision has been taken to close it.”
He added: “The Government has taken its time to listen to soundings from all sides. We have been talking to the Government for many months about these issues.
“We were unable to offer guarantees about jobs. We couldn’t offer guarantees about jobs until the Government clarified the level of support available.
“The Government has made an announcement on renewable energy and we will consider that.”
Mr Lavery later revealed he would be meeting unions and management at the plant today – and urged Rio Tinto to clearly set out its plans.
Referring to Mr Huhne’s comments, he added: “What he said and what he meant is that he had discussions with Rio Tinto and there was absolutely no commitment from Rio Tinto whatsoever and that alarms me. They want everything from the Government so they can sell it on.”