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Alcoa Details Yadkin Dam Profits, Skeptics Scoff

Alcoa made a profit of $8 million last year selling electricity from its dams on the Yadkin River. That's according to an audited financial statement Alcoa released today in an effort to convince the public that it is the best choice to operate the dams. Detractors still think the state of North Carolina could do a better job. In the eyes of many state and local leaders, the water that flows down the Yadkin is a perpetual source of cash, and Alcoa's hogging all the profits. "We're technically getting nothing for our natural resource," says Stanly County Commissioner Tony Dennis. "Absolutely nothing." Governor Bev Perdue is of a similar mind. Alcoa's dams on the Yadkin were originally built to keep the boilers running at a power-hungry aluminum smelter in Badin. But the smelter is closed, the 900 workers were laid off, and Alcoa now sells the electricity on the wholesale market. Financial statements audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers show Alcoa earned $31 million on those sales last year. Alcoa says it spent all but $8 million of that money on taxes, operating expenses and overhead such as marketing and HR. Commissioner Dennis scoffs at that. He's never been involved in the hydropower industry, but says he grew up in Stanly County. "I've been down in the dams a thousand times and it's not very hard to run," says Dennis. "You open the gates and turn it to turbines." Alcoa's Chief Sustainability Officer Kevin Anton says people don't appreciate the complexity of running a hydro dam. "There's a perception they just sit there and run themselves," says Anton. "But you need mechanical expertise. You need civil expertise. You need electrical expertise. A lot of regulation - and good regulation - sits on top of these assets." Anton also says Alcoa expects profits from the dams to increase over time, as demand for energy grows. He says Alcoa has the expertise and the capital to run the dams well - and watch out for the Yadkin River. State regulators aren't so sure. They've revoked a key water quality certificate Alcoa needs to renew its federal license. The company is fighting that decision.