While the Kitimat smelter modernisation project may still be waiting for full board approval, Jacynthe CÔté, president and CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan’s Primary Metal division, said Friday that total expenditures by year’s end will have reached $700 million.
CÔté was speaking at an RTA-hosted luncheon at the Rod and Gun to approximately three dozen made up of members of the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce and invited guests from Terrace.
She pointed out that expenditures approved for this year translated to about $1 million a day being spent on a project that hadn’t even been officially green-lighted.
Recalling the economic crash of 2009, CÔté said the decision had been made then to keep KMP going, albeit at a slow pace, because in the long run it was actually cheaper to do that than halt it completely.
But once the go-ahead is given, she said the goal will then be to complete the project quickly because the longer it took to do, the more it would cost.
Therefore, “We all have the same objective,” she said, that being to have everything in place for when the approval came down.
Another goal was sustainable development for not just this generation but for those that followed.
Therefore, the project not only had to make sense to the company’s shareholders, but also socially and environmentally.
Recalling the old smelter was built more than 50 years ago, CÔté said today RTA was building for the next 75 years.
She also drew a contrast between the original project and KMP.
When the 1950s smelter was built, the technology used was “old” even then.
KMP however would use the very latest in aluminum production technology and therefore would be well-positioned on a global scale.
And she would be “challenging” the local project team to bring the modernised Kitimat smelter into the lowest cost percentile.
Turning to the question of board approval, CÔté noted that aluminum prices had come back from their post-crash low ebb and the financial position of Rio Tinto as a whole was stronger today.
However, she was taking nothing for granted and cost control would have to remain the watchword of the project.
Turning to safety, CÔté admitted, “Some people think we are crazy about safety.” She preferred to say the company was obsessed – and she was proud of that obsession.
And she took the opportunity to tell the audience that Kitimat Operations had just received an award for one of the strongest performances on safety across all RTA’s aluminum operations globally.
On the state of the aluminum market, CÔté said demand remained strong but aluminum producers had to be cautious about not bringing too much new production capacity on stream.
Acknowledging that she was being cautious on the question of board approval, she added that personally she felt confident KMP would get the go-ahead.
But she was still not going to say it was a certainty until the necessary board decision actually came down.