Century Aluminum’s current trouble is just more fallout from this criminally inept nuclear power plant fiasco.
The Post and Courier’s David Wren reports the Goose Creek smelter is going to miss out on any benefits of the president’s controversial aluminum tariffs. Which might have been the only silver lining in the coming trade war.
See, Mount Holly’s sister plant in Kentucky is hiring 300 people to meet increased demand for domestic aluminum, but Century can’t afford to follow suit and crank up local production.
Because its power bill is too high.
Sound familiar? Well, that most likely wouldn’t be the case if those two plants at V.C. Summer had gone online as originally scheduled in 2017 or 2018.
Instead, we’re shoveling $37 million per month into two holes in the ground while also paying some of the highest utility rates in the nation.
And SCE&G customers can expect another shellacking on their bills because, you know, March cold snap.
Now, it turns out incompetence and negligence has cost Lowcountry residents hundreds of lucrative jobs.
So when is this lunacy going to end?
When lawmakers get their wires uncrossed, cut these nuclear plant debt payments — and dare 'em to sue.
This dispute between Century and Santee Cooper has been going on for years.
The company buys three-quarters of its power out of state, but Santee Cooper insists it purchase at least a quarter locally to cover transmission fees.
But local power is nearly 40 percent higher than Century’s other sources. So, two years ago, Mount Holly cut production in half and laid off 300 people making an average of $92,624 a year.
That put a dent in the economy.
Century sued and lost an antitrust lawsuit. As U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel correctly noted, Santee Cooper is a legal monopoly established by the Legislature with exclusive rights to provide power in Berkeley County.
Santee Cooper, Gergel said, could force Century to buy all its electricity locally. True.
In Santee Cooper’s defense, it claims to sell power to Century at cost, and lowering rates further would force other customers so subsidize the company. Not good.
But here's the real problem: Century's other sources of power are markedly cheaper because those utilities use natural gas to generate electricity. Santee Cooper still relies on coal plants.
Their rates might be more competitive if only we had nuclear plants, which provide cleaner and theoretically cheaper electricity. When they work.
So, yes, $27 million in lost wages at Century — and the 1,400 ancillary jobs they supported — is yet another unintended consequence of SCANA’s malfeasance.
And that’s exactly what it is.
The Post and Courier’s Andrew Brown and Thad Moore documented this week that SCANA knew V.C. Summer was spiraling out of control not long after they broke ground on the plants.
But utility officials looked the other way. For five years, they continued to charge customers for a project that was so bungled Wile E. Coyote would be ashamed.
Defend that in court, SCANA.
See you in court
People are justifiably outraged they're still paying the debt on two shuttered nuke plants while SCANA is handing out dividend checks like Mr. Monopoly.
But the General Assembly has yet to stop it.
In fairness, House members have tried to repeal those payments. They’re spitting mad, and it’s not just election-year theatrics.
But the Senate has not played along. Senators urge caution; they fear repealing those payments could bankrupt SCANA and get us sued.
Those are legitimate concerns, even if some of them are talking points from the utilities lobby. The way SCANA blows through money, it probably would go broke without the $37 million it’s picking from ratepayers’ pockets.
But let ‘em sue. There is now so much evidence of malfeasance, incompetence and — let’s be honest — fraud they would get laughed out of court.
Another reason senators have said they’re hesitant to go all medieval on SCANA is a fear that its bankruptcy would result in higher electric rates that hurt economic development.
What do you call this? Kentucky companies can get their power 35 to 40 percent cheaper than South Carolina businesses, and the cost of Santee Cooper’s wholesale electricity has shut down half a company that once had a $945 million economic impact.
That ship has sailed, and still this madness is costing SCE&G customers millions a month.
Time to pull the plug.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.