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Globe Specialty Metals to 'suspend production' at Niagara Falls facility

Once seen as an opportunity to get Niagara Falls and New York State a foothold in the "green" economy, the future of Globe Specialty Metals is in question.

Operations at the Highland Avenue silicon plant in Niagara Falls will be halted by Sunday, London-based owner Ferroglobe PLC announced Thursday, saying the move affects 100 employees.

"The decision to suspend production at the Niagara Falls plant was difficult given the unquestioned commitment of the plant’s employees," Ferroglobe CEO Pedro Larrea said in a prepared statement.

Larrea said the shutdown follows its efforts to adjust production "to optimize utilization rates and logistics to customers" and to "maximize economic efficiency."

The company said it would work closely with its customers to "transition their product demand seamlessly to other Ferroglobe sites in North America."

Globe Specialty Metals opened in 2009 after Globe Metallurgical, its forerunner, closed under different ownership in 2003. Grupo Villar Mir of Spain announced a merger of its Grupo FerroAtlantica unit with Globe in 2015.

The reopening of the site came amid state and local efforts to lure solar panel manufacturers to New York. The first phase of reviving the plant involved bringing its two furnaces back to life to create metallurgical-grade silicon. A planned second phase called for the construction of a 100,000-square-foot facility to refine that material to solar-grade silicon, to be used in the production of solar panels.

Then-Gov. David A. Paterson came to the Falls in November 2009 to mark the plant's reopening. At the time, the company said it had invested $27 million in a renovation of the plant and promised a total investment of more than $60 million.

The company also said it would eventually have 500 employees.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said city officials had seen the production of silicon at Globe Specialty Metals as a chance for the city to become a part of the supply chain in the manufacturing of solar panels.

"We viewed Globe's production of silicon as a point of entry," Dyster said. The city, with the hydropower produced nearby, had sought to try to leverage its existing green energy source in ways that develop additional green energy sources, he said.

The company received an allocation of low-cost hydropower from the New York Power Authority, as well as tax breaks. Under an unusual economic development deal, the state and the company agreed to market 25 percent of the high-grade silicon to be produced there to solar product companies and other end-users in the state.

The state also provided a $1.8 million grant to Niagara County to pay for most of the cost of a major railroad project benefiting Globe.

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