Gov. Haley gives support to Alcoa in power negotiations

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 21, 2011

Employees at Alcoa Mt. Holly will not lose their jobs because of electricity rates, Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday during a town hall event at the Berkeley County aluminum smelter.

“I’m going to take care of you,” Haley said to the more than 350 employees and family members at the town hall. “We are working on some issues. These things don’t happen by themselves.”

Alcoa has threatened to close its plant if the aluminum smelter can’t negotiate a better rate with its power supplier, Santee Cooper. The plant’s contract ends in 2015. It opened in Berkeley County in 1980 and employs 562 full-time workers. A spokeswoman for Santee Cooper has said the negotiations are ongoing.

Haley said she’s treating the contract negotiations as a regional issue. If Alcoa has issues with its power rates, then other companies won’t come to South Carolina because they’ll face the same issues, she said.

Bob Wilt, president of Alcoa Global Primary Products in the U.S., said electricity accounts for 40% of the plant’s cost structure, and the company needs to find a solution to rising power rates to make decisions about capital investments at the plant.

Wilkes said the electricity contract has a trigger that kicks in if the price of metal falls to a certain point. The trigger gives Alcoa the option to leave the contract early with a certain amount of notice.

Alcoa employees Randy Benson and Clint Bolyn said Haley’s comments sounded promising, though the negotiations have been stressful.

“I think about it a lot,” said Bolyn, who has worked at the plant for five years. “There’s not many companies in this area that pay this well.”

Bolyn said he would have to move if the plant closes. He’s delayed upcoming expenses, including a new car and bigger house until the power contract is resolved.

Haley took questions after her brief remarks, but didn’t receive any from Alcoa employees who thanked the governor for her support. Many talked about the family atmosphere at Alcoa and plans that are on hold — including one employee’s wedding — until the electricity issue is resolved.

“We’ll keep you up to date on the issues as we’re going,” Haley said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. But what I can tell you is that you’ve got an army that’s ready to fight.”

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