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Germans may buy smelter in Addy

A German maker of polysilicon for solar cells and other uses is considering purchase of the idled Northwest Alloys plant at Addy, between Chewelah and Colville.

Solarvalue AG representatives visited the smelter last year but have kept a low profile in recent weeks. The company, headquartered in Berlin, did not respond to an e-mail sent Wednesday or to a telephone inquiry forwarded by a consultant in the United States.

A spokesman for Alcoa, owner of Northwest Alloys, would not discuss what negotiations, if any, the company is having with Solarvalue.

But Avista spokesman Hugh Imhof confirmed the Spokane utility has presented a power-supply contract to Solarvalue. Avista officials last had contact with Solarvalue on Jan. 23, he said.

Securing inexpensive power is probably the biggest obstacle to restarting the Addy plant, said Tim Stearns, senior energy policy specialist at the Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.

He said producing polysilicon takes lots of electricity even though makers are adopting more efficient technologies. The Addy smelter, he said, could require 20 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply about 14,000 homes.

Stearns said CTED has tried to provide what help it can assisting with a sale of Northwest Alloys, which Alcoa closed in late 2001 because its process for smelting magnesium had become outdated. More than 300 workers lost their jobs.

The plant contained at least one silicon furnace, but the plant was not producing silicon when it was shut down.

Stearns said the number of jobs Solarvalue might provide would depend on how much equipment would be restarted, but the total would probably not exceed 100.

But the longer the plant stays shuttered, the lower the chances Solarvalue or anyone else will want it, he said. At some point, scrapping the plant could become the only option, he said, but Solarvalue was apparently impressed with the care taken to keep it well-maintained.

A proposed purchase of the plant, with plans to tear it down and move it to Malaysia, fell through in 2003.

Stearns said there is a worldwide shortage of silicon driven by swelling demand from companies making solar cells. Output at a Moses Lake plant owned by Norway-based REC Silicon will double when an $800 million expansion is completed, probably later this year.

Solarvalue itself is a young company incorporated in 2005. According to its Web site, Solarvalue began test production of silicon at a converted plant in Ruse, Slovenia, last year. Commercial production is scheduled to begin the first half of this year.

The company plans to expand into the manufacture of solar cells.