Bill to Save Mt. Holly Smelter Dies in South Carolina House’s Committee

Bill to Save Mt. Holly Smelter Dies in South Carolina House’s Committee

The latest and likely final effort to keep Century Aluminum’s Mount Holly plant running has failed according to a lawmaker in South Carolina’s House of Representatives. The subcommittee to which the bill was assigned on the lower house did not vote on it, signaling its likely end.

“We gave all we could in 2012 and even more in 2015,” senior vice president of Santee Cooper Michael Baxley said about agreements the firm has made with Century Aluminum in the past. “If we say, ‘Go take all your power from off-system,’ then we’ve failed the best-interest test because it drives costs up for our other customers. We have to draw the line.”

A subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee listened to testimony regarding the bill that would allow Century Aluminum to purchase energy on the open market and reimburse Santee Cooper for any money they may lose in the transaction. Century’s president and CEO Michael Bless stated that the firm would close the smelter in Goose Creek.

“I think there’s not enough time left in the session for us to deal with this situation,” said Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Summerville, who was in attendance but not part of the subcommittee. “We were asked at the last minute to try and do a temporary fix to keep the plant open and operational for two years so that market forces could return and the nuclear power reactor could come online.”

Century buys three quarters of its electricity on the open market at present, and purchases the rest from Santee Cooper. Bless said that this arrangement would not work unless and until Santee Cooper switched from more expensive coal to cheaper natural gas.

“At this power price, it will allow us to run this plant through good times and bad,” said Bless. “As long as we have a competitive price, even when the (price of aluminum) is down, we have the confidence to know — it’s going to go back up if we keep running.”