The future of a major employer in Berkeley County was put deeper in doubt Monday after South Carolina’s state-owned power utility rejected a final proposal from a Mt. Holly smelter to get its electricity from another source, leaving roughly 600 jobs hanging in the balance.
At a special meeting Monday, the Santee Cooper board rejected a plan from Century Aluminum to buy power from a third party provider, instead insisting that the aluminum smelter extend its current power deal.
Smelters require enormous amounts of power in order to extract aluminum. As a result, Century and its predecessor Alcoa negotiated separate agreements with Santee Cooper and its other utilities. But the state agency is refusing to lower its offer any further to benefit the company — saying it will be forced to raise rates on all other customers to cover the smelter’s subsidy.
If Century rejects this latest Santee Cooper offer, the company’s board of directors could shut down the smelter by Dec. 31. The company has already taken steps to comply with South Carolina’s laws that require advance notice of major layoffs.
Local media reported about 30 Century employees appeared at Monday’s hearing and pleaded for regulators to accept the deal, worried they would lose their jobs otherwise. But Santee Cooper argued its rates are already far below the national average.