Reopening the Wenatchee smelter will likely cause a spike in electricity demand in the state. So, given what I’ve said about the environmental impacts of electricity, why am I generally pleased about what’s happening in Wenatchee?
Mostly because it doesn’t matter much where aluminum is produced. Alcoa has decided that it can make money smelting aluminum—and if it’s not in Wenatchee, it will likely be somewhere else. It’s no gain for the Northwest if production just shifts to some other part of the globe, but we still consume as much aluminum as before. So as long as it’s being produced somewhere, all things being equal I’d just as soon have it here. Goodness knows that Wenatchee can use the jobs. (Though I wonder what concessions the union had to make—and how much bargaining power that high electricity prices gave to Alcoa…)
The real trick isn’t to shift aluminum production outside the region, but to reduce the region’s demand for aluminum. In terms of our overall impact on the climate, the latter matters, the former doesn’t.