CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Goose Creek is set to hold a special election on Dec. 3 to ask voters if the city should get into the electric utility business.
Leaders want voters’ approval for the creation and maintenance of an electric utility that will serve just one customer, Century Aluminum.
The aluminum smelter, located in Mt. Holly, has been operating at half capacity since 2015 when 300 people were laid off amid a dispute with Santee Cooper.
For years, Century has been waging a battle with the state-owned utility to reduce its electric costs. The fight was taken to the South Carolina statehouse in 2016 where the company’s CEO claimed high prices had hurt business.
“Seventy seven percent of aluminum plants and smelters around the world have a lower power price,” Century CEO Mike Bless said.
However, Goose Creek would be able to serve as a channel to the open market for Century if voters say “yes” to a referendum question that will be on the ballot Tuesday.
Goose Creek Mayor Gregory Habib believes this is an opportunity to return the Mt. Holly plant to full operations.
“They’ve made that commitment, so 300 people go back to work,” Habib said. “That’s a significant impact here because they are high paying jobs, and they are jobs that people in this area have coveted for years and year.”
Goose Creek would become the 22nd municipality in the state to enter the electric utility business, if the venture is approved by voters.
“Now one has not been established in more than 30 years and certainly this is unique for us to serve one customer. That obviously has not happened in the past,” Habib said. “Frankly, I believe it makes it easier. The outbound electricity is simpler. Establishment of this utility is easier than any others because there is no asset that has to be constructed. It already exists.”
The vote will not mean a new utility for residents in the city. They will remain Berkeley Electric customers. However, leaders say the deal would pay off for taxpayers in the form of more an a million dollars in revenue each year.
“Bringing in more than a million dollars in revenue from one application or one project is equivalent to raising taxes every year for six or seven years in a row. We obviously don’t want to raise taxes, so it’s an important move for the city in that regard,” Habib said.
The mayor said the money could provide for more police officers, more firemen, new fire departments, and more recreational opportunities.
“We don’t have anything to lose here, in that if we sell power and we make a profit doing that, that’s great. If we sell it for a period of time then it goes away, that’s ok, too, because we are no better off or no worse off than we are right now,” Habib said.
The taxpayers will foot the bill for the referendum though. Habib estimates it will cost about $8,000.
State law requires a majority vote from residents before a municipality can move forward with establishing an electric system.