Goose Creek has filed a lawsuit against Santee Cooper over the city’s right to provide electric utility service to customers who will be annexed into the city.
A special referendum passed in December allows Goose Creek to establish a municipal electric utility. The sole customer when the utility begins operation on Jan. 1 would be Century Aluminum, though 5,000 acres of surrounding property would also be annexed into the city and serviced by the municipal utility if necessary.
Century Aluminum has said that if it could buy all of its electricity at open market rates, the aluminum smelter would be able to restart its second pot line, which it shut down in 2015. Century Aluminum currently receives its electricity through a contract with Santee Cooper; 30% of the electricity is at Santee Cooper rates and 70% is at open market prices.
The new electric utility will not service current residents and businesses located in Goose Creek; they will continue to be served by Berkeley Electric Cooperative, which gets its electricity from Santee Cooper.
“We want to increase the opportunity for job growth in Goose Creek while preserving our existing industrial partners, and one of the ways we can do that is creating a municipal electric utility that meets the needs of the industrial employers in this community,” Mayor Greg Habib said in a news release.
Santee Cooper has been opposed to Goose Creek servicing Century Aluminum, asserting that it has the “statutory right and obligation” to provide service to the aluminum smelter and the 5,000 surrounding acres.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Berkeley County, Santee Cooper has requested information beyond what it typically requires for an application for transmission service.
Goose Creek says after a month of back and forth, Santee Cooper eventually rejected the city’s application on March 19.
Goose Creek said in the lawsuit that it has filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but “because time is of the essence with respect to the city’s preparations and efforts to become a municipal electric utility,” it needs a court to resolve the matter.
“Santee Cooper has shown they will do all they can to drag this out and try to run out the clock,” Habib said. “We’re taking this to the court because we’re tired of waiting on them to play by the rules.”
Mollie Gore, spokeswoman for Santee Cooper, said the utility intends to file a “full, detailed” legal response to the lawsuit in the coming weeks.
She added that Santee Cooper does not oppose Goose Creek’s becoming an electric city — what it opposes is the city’s serving a single customer that Santee Cooper has the “exclusive right and obligation” to serve.
“And frankly, the cost to defend these matters is a cost that has to be passed on to all customers, including Century,” Gore said.