New deal at Century Aluminum saves 300 jobs at Mt. Holly plant

VIDEO: New deal at Century Aluminum saves 300 jobs at Mt. Holly plant

GOOSE CREEK, SC (WCSC) - Century Aluminum Company has renegotiated a power deal that will keep its Mt. Holly smelter plant running, and save the 300 jobs that were at risk of being lost, at least into the near future.

Employees at the plant learned the news Thursday at a meeting.

"Everyone was very excited and relieved," said plant manager Dennis Gregory. "We've been living for the last year not knowing if we were going to have a job come… basically the end of August."

Century's President and CEO Michael Bless said a market-based agreement was reached with a third-party supplier to provide approximately 75% of the power requirements for the Mt. Holly plant. The remaining 25% of the power requirement will continue to be supplied by Santee Cooper.

It's part of a contract with Santee Cooper that runs through 2018, one officials with Century said they plan to uphold.

"The piece of power that we're buying on the outside market, we were able to renegotiate and bring that price down so it keeps the plant viable for the foreseeable future," Gregory said.

At prior meetings Bless claimed the Mt. Holly plant had the highest electric cost of any U.S. smelter, which is hurting business.

With this new market-based agreement, it will allow the plant to continue to operate at half capacity while it seeks a competitive long-term arrangement.

"We are proud of the team at Mt. Holly, who have operated the plant safely and efficiently during these highly uncertain times," Bless said. "We have regrettably not been able to achieve an agreement for full market power access; such a structure is required for Mt. Holly's long-term competitiveness."

Employees said Wednesday the atmosphere at the plant has been different over the last week, something they haven't felt in a long time.

"The moral of our folks being uplifted, that is definitely a great thing," said Jacqueline McLillian, the employee relations coordinator at the plant. "A lot of them said we're really going to cook out this July 4th. We're going to have our good time! So that was really good to see."

The company has been operating at capacity since December when management announced it would shut down the facility if an agreement was not reached in the future. Bless also announced 300 jobs would be cut at the plant at that time.

In early 2016 Century Aluminum officials sent two bills to legislators asking for their help in the issue.

Republican Senator Larry Grooms of Berkeley County was a sponsor of one of those bills.

While lawmakers were unable to make a decision, Grooms said Wednesday he is excited and happy to hear about the new deal and the outlook of the future.

"Perhaps when our nuclear plants come online, as you know they're two years behind in their scheduled opening, once these new plants come online we should be able to have the right power supply for Century Aluminum for the long-term operation," he said.

"[We have] no more immediate deadlines, or anything like that to live with, so we're excited," Gregory said.

With the new arrangement, Bless said he's optimistic about the future.

"We are hopeful that additional consideration of this complex matter in South Carolina will enable Mt. Holly to purchase its full power from the competitive market," he said. "The facts support the conclusion that such an outcome would be beneficial to each and every constituency, including Santee Cooper and its entire customer base. In addition, full access to market power will enable us to run Mt. Holly at its maximum capacity, rehire 300 employees and restore the $500 million in economic impact that has been unnecessarily lost."

According to a 2013 Strom Thurmond Institute study at Clemson, Mt. Holly provided more than 3,700 direct and indirect jobs during 2011-2012 with a state-wide economic impact of $858 million annually, and a net fiscal impact to local and state governments of $19 million annually and $25 million annually, respectively.

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