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Small business advocate pitches message to help Century Aluminum

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Small business advocate pitches message to help Century Aluminum

Century Aluminum seeks to buy power on the open market.

Pointing the finger directly at Santee Cooper about its bad business decisions, the President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, went to Goose Creek to deliver a message to help stop Century Aluminum from shutting down in Berkeley County.

One day after the company said it may close, on Oct. 21, Frank Knapp the President of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce held a press conference to give Century Aluminum’s side of the story when it comes to power rates and the cost of doing business.

“This time Santee Cooper’s bad business decision is going to devastate the economy of Goose Creek and the entire Charleston region,” Knapp said.

Knapp said that 300 employees could lose their jobs at the Mt. Holly site.

Knapp said it is not because of anything they did, but because of what Santee Cooper refuses to do. Century Aluminum said the issue has been going on for years; the company is struggling to pay power costs. Knapp called the utility agency arrogant.

“Let Mt. Holly get the electricity it needs at much lower cost from the open market. Mt. Holly will make sure that Santee Cooper and its customers will be kept whole, and no rate increase will be needed,” Knapp said.

The chamber said Century Aluminum jobs average about $90,000 a year and help create the consumer demand for the goods and services of local small businesses. Knapp stated there are more than 350 local and statewide businesses that provide goods and services to Mt. Holly. Two-thirds of these are in the Lowcountry and would take a financial hit.

In an effort to help Mt. Holly and try and stop a pending power battle, the City of Goose Creek tried to create its own electric co-op, so Santee Cooper could buy power directly from the city. But earlier this month the court said such a move can’t happen.

“They said it could be a violation of state law to allow Goose Creek to have its own co-op and have Santee Cooper as a customer,” said Knapp. “That was an effort to avoid where we are today.”

Currently Century pays $16-million for transmission lines to receive power. The company said it will continue to pay for those if they can search the power somewhere else. Right now the plant’s closing is not a forgone conclusion. There are still efforts between the two sides to find some common ground, including an extension to Century’s contract to give more time for negotiations.

And it may be a good idea to keep looking for a solution. Knapp added, based on numbers, from the University of South Carolina’s School of Business, Century Aluminum adds $500 million in economic activity to the Charleston tri-county region.

Santee Cooper sent out a statement about the recent announcement on a potential closing, saying the Mt. Holly site enjoys competitive rates already and there are other power customers to consider as well.

“Santee Cooper has very competitive prices, and our industrial rates are 20% below the national average. Santee Cooper has worked with the Mt. Holly plant since 2012 to help them achieve significant savings. The issue is that there is only so much capability to import electricity from off system, and it is not easily or quickly expanded. We use our capability to benefit Century and other industrial customers across the state, along with about 2 million South Carolinians who get their power directly or indirectly from us. We are talking, and have offered to extend the current contract with Century to give all parties additional time.

“Aluminum prices plummeted after the Great Recession and never recovered, although recent trends are promising. Santee Cooper industrial rates are 20% lower than the national average. For years, as the aluminum market struggled, Santee Cooper has done its best to help Century lower its costs at Mt. Holly. We are working on new ideas that we hope to discuss with Century soon. Meanwhile, today’s Wall Street Journal noted that aluminum prices are currently surging. We hope that our offer to extend the current Mt. Holly contract for a year will provide time for aluminum prices to continue to improve, to avoid the threatened shutdown.”

— Source: Santee Cooper