Alcoa, Santee Cooper agree to one-year extension on power rate negotiations

Employees work in what is called the pot room at the Alcoa aluminum smelting plant in Goose Creek. Alcoa and state-owned utility Santee Cooper, the firm’s electricity provider, announced Thursday a one-year extension to negotiate a new power rate. (AP file photo)

Alcoa and Santee Cooper have agreed to postpone the date by which the aluminum manufacturer must tell the utility whether its Berkeley County plant will continue operating past 2015.

The deadline had been June 30, but late Wednesday, the state-owned utility and its biggest industrial customer signed a short-term deal.

Alcoa Mount Holly plant manager Mike Rousseau said the agreement pushes the deadline back a year, to June 30, 2013, and that it also includes “the potential for some short-term rate reduction.”

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Laura Varn confirmed the extension but would not specify the new deadline or any other components of the deal.

“We’ve been granted an extension, and I think both parties are committed to development of what post-2015 can look like,” Rosseau said.

Alcoa, which opened the local plant in 1980, has hinted that without “long-term rate relief” the plant’s current contract with Santee Cooper could be its last and that the roughly 600 jobs at the smelting operation would be at risk.

Alcoa represents about 10 percent of Santee Cooper’s overall business, Varn said.

Negotiations have been ongoing for much of the past year and will continue, both sides said.

Read more later on postandcourier.com and in Friday’s editions of The Post and Courier.