A company that operates an aluminum smelter in Berkeley County has reached a deal with a state-owned power utility that would keep it open — but without roughly half of its employees.
Century Aluminum and Santee Cooper both announced an agreement in principle in separate releases Friday. The deal would keep the Mt. Holly smelter operating at half-capacity for now, with Santee Cooper as the plant’s sole power provider. The company had been in a dispute with the utility over an existing agreement Century considered “uncompetitive.” Aluminum smelters often have special agreements with utilities due to the massive amounts of energy they require to operate.
Since the plant would not operate at full capacity, however, layoffs would still occur. “Our relief at reaching this point is tempered because 300 of our people are being laid off,” President and CEO Michael Bless said. “Mt. Holly is a family and we are saddened that we were left with no choice but to make this decision. Our employees are responsible for making Mt. Holly the best, most-efficient aluminum smelter in the country and we will expend all efforts to return them to their jobs.”
The contract would have a three-year term and could be terminated at any time by Century with 60 days notice.
Century had announced in October that it would close the smelter by Dec. 31 if a deal could not be reached. The company had wanted to purchase all of its power on the open market, while Santee Cooper wanted to keep the current contract of providing 25 percent. The cheaper market power is still transmitted through Santee Cooper’s infrastructure. Santee Cooper says its enabling legislation does not allow it to grant subsidies to individual customers.
Berkeley County’s legislative delegation has pledged to see if state law could be changed so that Century could purchase outside Santee Cooper for its power needs.