A state Senate bill that would have let Century Aluminum buy all of its electricity on the open market failed to get past a subcommittee hearing.
That dims the possibility of a last-minute deal to save the company’s Mount Holly smelter and its remaining 300 jobs, although even supporters considered the legislation a long shot.
“This is our livelihood,” Century employee Valerie Taylor testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing last week. “Without this job, a lot of us would not be able to afford the necessities. I’m just saying the bare necessities of life.”
Aluminum smelters require enormous amounts of energy to operate. Mount Holly cut its production and staff in half at the end of last year, citing the costs of a power agreement that requires it to buy 25 percent of electricity from Santee Cooper. Company CEO Mike Bless said that deal puts Mount Holly’s power costs higher than 77 percent of the world’s smelters.
Current power supplier Santee Cooper said they are already giving Century a 2009 rate. Senior Vice-President, Michael Baxley told the panel they just cannot go any lower. “Santee Cooper has given all it can give without going over to the point where we have to subsidize Century in order to add what there’re asking for,” he told senators.
Bless said, if they can get an affordable rate, the facility can continue to operate and recall 300 workers they laid off. “With a competitive power price, Mount Holly will run, and we would like at the appropriate time to bring back those 300 folks,” the CEO told the panel.
Century Aluminum can cancel its electricity contract with Santee Cooper by giving a 60-day notice. The company already has met federal rules for notifying employees of a pending layoff or shutdown. Bless said Mount Holly will shut down by Aug. 31, if no deal is reached.
But senators on the panel had too many concerns about getting involved in a contract dispute. The bill faced tall odds of passing this year regardless, since a critical crossover deadline passed on Sunday. Any legislation that has not passed either the House or Senate by that date requires a supermajority to even be considered in the other chamber.