Kennecott's announcement that it will spend $900 million over three years to modernize its refinery and build a world-class, pollution-free smelter is not only great economic news for Utah, but is a tangible vote of confidence in the state's future. The investment also is a commitment that Kennecott will be a viable Utah business force for decades to come.
The undertaking is a win-win situation for everybody - the Utah economy, the environment, the taxpayer and Kennecott itself.- The Utah economy: An expenditure of that size clearly will have a major impact on the economy, creating 3,000 man-years of construction employment. While some of the equipment will be acquired outside of Utah, the project will purchase some $200 million worth of goods and services from 200 Utah vendors.
The investment also will keep jobs in the state, both the 2,700 people employed directly by Kennecott and the 6,000 working in support industries. At the moment, Kennecott sends 40 percent of its copper concentrate to Japan for processing into refined metal. With the modernization, all of that copper would be processed in Utah.
- The environment: The new high-tech smelter will capture 99.9 percent of the sulfur contained in copper concentrates, compared to the current 93 percent. Sulfur-dioxide emissions should be reduced to 200 pounds an hour. By comparison, 4,700 pounds an hour are allowed under Utah air quality standards. When finished, it will be the cleanest smelter in the world.
In addition, the facility will reduce waste and energy use. Water usage will be cut by two-thirds through extensive recycling. The plant will generate 85 percent of its own power by recovering heat from furnace gases and pollution control equipment and converting the heat to electricity. Part of that is made possible because the new plant will only use one-fourth the electricity now used to produce a ton of copper.
- Taxes: The project will result in a total of 10,000 additional man-years of employment and the taxes that would go with those hours. The renovation is expected to produce some $80 million in additional state and local taxes.
- Kennecott: The modernization will allow the company to sustain its position as one of the most efficient and lowest-cost copper producers in the world - supplying 15 percent of the U.S. copper market. The improvements also will allow more effective recovery of profitable by-products such as gold, silver and molybdenum.
All of this is a far cry from a decade ago when low copper prices, high labor costs and low productivity forced a two-year shutdown of the copper mine and smelter. The comeback is a tribute to the company's management, which has had the foresight to plan ahead and been willing to invest in the necessary, ultra-modern facilities. As a result, the company is clean and prospering. It is an example that should be carefully noted and followed elsewhere.