BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A South Carolina aluminum smelter is accusing Santee Cooper of violating state and federal monopoly laws.
Representatives for Century Aluminum claim a lawsuit filed Monday details how the utility, without any meaningful state oversight, used monopoly power to force the Mt. Holly smelter to accept the highest electricity prices paid by any aluminum smelter in the country, even though cheaper power was available from third-party providers.
The lawsuit comes a year after the plant laid off half of their employees.
Representatives say they want an injunction preventing Santee Cooper from engaging in what they call anticompetitive behavior, allowing them to purchase their power on the open market. The suit also seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Higher-ups at the aluminum smelter say the lawsuit is a last resort to save 600 jobs and the nearly $1 billion in economic contributions to the state of South Carolina.
"We reluctantly made the choice to proceed with the lawsuit only after all else failed, including a recent final face-to-face attempt to reach resolution with Santee Cooper," Michael Bless, Century Aluminum Company's President and Chief Executive Officer, said.
Representatives for Santee Cooper say they plan to mount a vigorous defense. They argue that Century Aluminum's real problem stems back to the 2007 recession and aluminum prices being 40 percent lower than they were a decade ago.
"Rather than spending money on a frivolous lawsuit, Century should develop a fair, legal and realistic plan for Mt. Holly that addresses the global aluminum marketplace," Santee Cooper says in a news release. "Mt. Holly's loyal employees deserve that approach."