Santee Cooper rejects Century Aluminum proposal to buy power from out of state

Santee Cooper rejects Century Aluminum proposal to buy power from out of state

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Power utility Santee Cooper rejected a request to allow a Berkeley County aluminum plant to buy cheaper power from out of state in a meeting Monday, officials say.

According to officials, the Century Aluminum center in Mount Holly offered to pay Santee Cooper about $60 million in transmission fees over the next five years so the smelter can buy the cheaper power elsewhere.

Last month, officials at the plant said they would have to close their doors unless they could agree on a new contract with Santee Cooper that would help them stay open.

A news release sent in October said the aluminum smelter's 600 employees received notice they could lose their jobs at the end of 2015 unless a new agreement could be made.

Century Aluminum employees attended Monday's board meeting hoping an agreement would be reached. They left disappointed.

One of them was Valerie Taylor who's worked at the plant since 2002.

"It's going to take away a lot and it's very depressing on this side of the holidays to have to look in my children's eyes and say mommy's gonna be without a job at the first of year," Taylor said.

"Santee Cooper has offered Century everything that we could fairly offer to help them keep the plant operating, but in the end Century's leadership consistently required a deal that would unfairly increase costs to our other customers," Santee Cooper said in response. "Santee Cooper has a responsibility to provide reliable, affordable electricity to all of our customers. We are a statewide power utility, providing electricity to end users in all 46 counties, including 27 industrial customers with more than 7,000 employees across the state."

In the meeting Monday, Santee Cooper maintained that other customers would have to foot the bill if they granted Century Aluminum's wish.

"The bottom line is to do more would raise power costs for other customers," Santee Cooper President and CEO Lonnie Carter said after Monday's meeting.

Officials at Century Aluminum still plan to close the plant at the end of the year unless they can reach a new agreement with the power utility, according to their CEO.

He says they may have to shut down some facets of the plant within the next couple weeks.

A study by the University of South Carolina details the plant's economic impact on the community.

The average salary and benefit package is about $92,000 a year.

Century Aluminum's direct economic impact on the Tri-County area is $945 million a year.

The plant's direct and indirect jobs impact totals to over 2,000 jobs.

The average income of those jobs is $60,000 a year.

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