The division of Rio Tinto that owns the smelters – Rio Tinto Alcan, which was created in November 2007 through the acquisition of Alcan – will use the power improvements to help increase production of aluminium.

At Kitimat, British Columbia, the company plans to add 125,000 tonne annually to output, and production at Lochaber is to go up by more than 16% to 50,000 tonnes per year.

Kitimat’s US$2B upgrade depended on the last of three conditions being met – the EPA had to be approved by the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC). The initial agreement between BC Hydro and Alcan was rejected by BCUC, and last year the power utility refilled with a revised application. The other two conditions concerned labour and environmental issues.

At Lochaber, Rio Tinto Alcan will invest US$90M over 2009-12 to upgrade the hydropower plant that was built in 1929.