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Goose Creek Plant Lacks Mettle To Continue Aluminum Smelting
5/5/2016 12:12:59 PM

Workers stand in unity outside of Century Aluminum's Mt. Holly aluminum smelting plant in Goose Creek
By Barney Blakeney

Unless something unforeseen happens soon, Century Aluminum's Mt. Holly aluminum smelting plant in Goose Creek most likely will shut down at the end of August. Human Resources Manager Marvin Dickerson laid off about half the plant’s 600 employee workforce last Christmas Eve. Remaining employees have been warned they also may be laid off.

Since 2012 the smelting plant, which is North America’s most efficient, has been running with a blend of power sources that incorporates 75 percent from an out-of-state provider and 25 percent from Moncks Corner’s state-owned Santee Cooper. All of the power comes into the plant over Santee Cooper lines. A year ago, plant management began negotiating with Santee Cooper for a new power supply contract. In July, Santee Cooper refused to renew its contract.

Power costs that have been increasing the past 15 years and cheaper imported aluminum makes production at Century more costly. To cut costs, Century wants to get all its power from its cheaper out-of-state provider and pay Santee Cooper to pump it in.

Santee Cooper wants to provide all the plant’s power at a rate about 40 percent higher than any other provider in the U.S. Even if Century got half the power it needs from Santee Cooper the plant would lose $10 million-$20 million this year. That’s unsustainable, plant managers say.

Century says it would reduce production by half its capacity and has offered to buy all the power it needs from Santee Cooper for about a year as a concession, but Santee Cooper won’t budge. Plant officials have asked Lowcountry legislators to intervene. But it seems legislative intervention may not come this year.

Dickerson said management hopes to find solutions whether legislative or through negotiations with Santee Cooper. The plant’s contribution to the local economy is too valuable to lose, he says.

The Goose Creek plant previously was wholly owned by Alcoa Aluminum and has meant a higher quality of life to past and present employees over three decades. Employee attrition only has been about two percent annually, Dickerson said.

The Mt. Holly plant has been located in Goose Creek for some 36 years and is among the area’s highest paying businesses with an annual payroll of between $50 million-$60 million. The plant has meant quality jobs and wages to its workforce that resides primarily in Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties. But the plant’s financial arm reaches further and has an economic impact of nearly $1 billion regionally. That impact touches residents of some 11 counties, Dickerson said.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen. But I do know we have worked hard over a lot of years and that this is a sad situation for our employees. Fifty percent of our employees are minorities,” he noted.

Beyond the local impact, Dickerson said the plant’s closure also will impact national security as aluminum and steel production increasingly is exported overseas.

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