GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCBD) – Judge Roger Young on Monday ruled against the City of Goose Creek in a dispute over whether power company Santee Cooper should have a monopoly on servicing an industrial customer.
The case, which was brought to the court in late March, seeks a declaratory judgement on whether Santee Cooper should continue being the sole power provider for Century Aluminum, which sits on land set to be annexed into the City of Goose Creek.
The City, which claims to have recently formed a municipal electric utility provider, wants to make Century a customer. Likewise, the removal of Santee Cooper’s essential monopoly would drive down the price for Century.
The court explained that “at the heart of this matter is Century’s attempt to secure access to retail electric markets so that it can negotiate a better rate than that offered by Santee Cooper.”
After months of deliberation and reviewing motions filed by both parties, the court ruled that the City of Goose Creek does not have standing to oust Santee Cooper as the provider, nor does the agreement for future operations between the City and Century have merit:
“Based upon the pleadings and the record presented, the Court finds that Santee Cooper has the exclusive right to provide electrical power to the industrial customer known as Century Aluminum of South Carolina, Inc. (“Century”) and that Goose Creek’s newly formed municipal electrical utility cannot provide service to Century without taking additional actions mandated by state law. The Court also finds that the agreement Goose Creek has entered into with Century to facilitate the future operations of the provision of the electrical service is void because it violates the public policy of the State of South Carolina.“
According to the court, Santee Cooper’s exclusive right to serve the facility was established decades ago by the SC General Assembly: first in 1974 when it decided that “Santee Cooper should be assigned certain areas, premises, and customers it had the right and obligation to serve without competition,” and again in 1984, when it “carved out certain premises Santee Cooper was then serving from other utilities’ territories and mandated those premises ‘must continue to be so served’ by Santee Cooper.”
Additionally, the court ruled that the agreement for future operations created by the City of Goose Creek and Century Aluminum delegates powers to Century which are reserved for a government body such as the City Council.
The abundance of power invested by way of the agreement voids the agreement, as it limits the power of current and future City Councils by requiring them to consult Century Aluminum on what should be matters decided by elected officials and only elected officials.
The ruling does outline a path by which the City may retain the right to service Century, outlined previously by the SC General Assembly.