Immunity claim puts aluminum maker’s suit against South Carolina utility on hold | Business


Century Aluminum, which owns the Mount Holly smelter (above) in Berkeley County, is suing Santee Cooper over electricity costs. The utility has asked a judge to dismiss the complaint. File/Provided

A federal judge has delayed a lawsuit pitting Santee Cooper against its biggest industrial customer while he determines whether the case should be dismissed.

Judge Richard Gergel ruled Thursday that Century Aluminum cannot request evidence from the Moncks Corner-based utility until after he determines whether the power provider is immune from antitrust laws.

The manufacturer alleges Santee Cooper is violating antitrust laws by refusing to let the company’s Berkeley County smelter buy all of its electricity on the open market. The state-owned utility has said it is immune from antitrust laws because it is a public agency and wants the lawsuit dismissed.

Santee Cooper said in court documents that allowing Century Aluminum to demand evidence before a dismissal ruling would lead to an “unnecessary and unduly burdensome expense and effort.”

Gergel, in his ruling, said federal law requires that immunity claims be resolved “at the earliest stage in litigation,” putting any discovery on hold “pending the resolution of the motion to dismiss.”

No hearing date has been scheduled.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston, alleges Santee Cooper operates without any meaningful state oversight and has used its monopoly over the transmission of electricity to force Century Aluminum to pay “millions of dollars in artificially elevated electric power costs” at its Mount Holly smelter.

The Chicago-based company wants to buy all of Mount Holly’s electricity on the open market, where prices are cheaper than what Santee Cooper offers. Century Aluminum is required to buy 25 percent of its power from the Moncks Corner utility. It can buy the rest from other providers.


Mike Bless is CEO of Century Aluminum. File/Provided

Century CEO Mike Bless has called the higher electric costs an “existential threat” to the business, adding the company…

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