Unless it is permitted to undertake a bold, brilliantly conceived self-rescue, the Ormet Corp. may well succumb to a slow meltdown. That is simply unacceptable.
Ormet, which owns an aluminum smelting plant at Hannibal, employs about 1,000 Ohio Valley men and women. It is critical to the local economy, absolutely essential to Monroe County's tax base.
For years Ormet has been suffering from the cyclical ups and downs of aluminum prices. Now its very existence is threatened because of the high cost of electrical power. As much as 40 percent of the cost of producing aluminum is the price of electricity.
Management and union members at the plant have worked hand-in-hand to save Ormet. Theirs has been, sadly, an unusual partnership in the industry. In years past, Ormet has been the site of severe labor disputes.
Now, the Hannibal facility has been sold to a Minnesota company and questions about how Ormet can survive are being answered.
Electricity prices have been a concern at Ormet for virtually the entire history of the company. But now, with the federal government assaulting the coal industry, the issue has become critical. Ormet's power comes from coal-fired generating stations, and the price is expected to skyrocket because of Environmental Protection Agency rules.
But Ormet President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Tanchuk has come up with an idea both innovative and obvious: Why not build a gas-fired generating station to supply Ormet itself?
Both East Ohio and the Northern Panhandle contain gigantic deposits of natural gas. Extracting it from layers of shale deep in the earth has become practical because of new drilling techniques and refinements of old ones, such as hydraulic fracturing. In fact, so much gas is available, the energy industry literally does not know what to do with it all. Much of the local gas may be exported to other countries.
Tanchuk thinks it ought to be used right here. He proposes building a gas-fired power station at the Hannibal smelting plant. That would provide Ormet with a stable supply of electricity that, at least for now, would be reasonably priced.
Public Utilities Com-mission of Ohio officials should waste no time in helping Ormet expedite the project. There is no good reason for any regulatory agency, state or federal, to stand in the way.
In fact, every assistance - including help with financing - should be provided by state and federal governments. Tan-chuk's idea could preserve Ormet as a vital contributor to the area's economy. Again, it should proceed as quickly as possible.