Alcoa spares Berkeley plant in cuts

The Alcoa Mount Holly smelter converts aluminum ingots into large coils of the malleable metal.

Aluminum giant Alcoa said Monday it is trimming production in Europe, sparing for now the company's Berkeley County plant that's locked in negotiations to reduce its power bill.

Partial manufacturing cuts announced last week left open the possibility that the 30-year-old smelter near Goose Creek could be affected.

Instead, Alcoa decided to reduce capacity in Italy and Spain. Previously, it said it would close a smelter in Tennessee and close two of six pot lines at a Texas plant.

"In today's rapidly changing global economy, it is imperative to respond quickly to maintain competitiveness," said Chris Ayers, president of Alcoa Global Primary Products in a statement. "This decision was made after thorough analysis of all the possible alternatives. We are committed to working to find solutions that will minimize the impact on these communities and our workers there."

The manufacturing behemoth is cutting 12 percent, or 531,000 metric tons, of its global smelting capacity because of energy expenses coupled with rising raw material costs and falling aluminum prices.

The Mount Holly plant, which employs about 640 workers, has been in talks with Santee Cooper for a better long-term power rate. It must let the state-owned utility know by June if it intends to renew its contract, which expires in 2015. Alcoa has said if it can't negotiate a better deal it might be forced to close.

Moncks Corner-based Santee Cooper has said the contract talks are a priority, though it must find a way around increasing coal and transportation costs and impending environmental expenses. It also must weigh whether a new deal with Alcoa would be fair to other ratepayers.

Also on Monday, Alcoa reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $191 million after the markets closed as a slower global economy hurt aluminum demand in industries ranging from construction and packaging to automobiles. That compares with a $258 million profit for the same period the previous year. Revenue rose about 6 percent to $6 billion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.