GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Tim Scott bowed in prayer with about 150 workers at an Alcoa aluminum plant Friday, praying that the plant and South Carolina's state-owned utility will reach an agreement on power rates so the plant may remain open and its 640 workers stay on the job.
"Lord, we know that you know where the solutions are. We know that you know how to get the deal done and I pray your influence will be at the table," the Republican lawmaker said as workers sat with bowed heads holding their hard hats in their hands.
Alcoa has been negotiating with Santee Cooper for 10 months and says it needs a break on its $4 million a week electric bill for the plant to remain in operation.
Power is about 40 percent of the cost of producing aluminum and plant manager Mike Rousseau said the power rates Alcoa's Mount Holly plant pays are the highest of any Alcoa plant in the nation. He said without a favorable power agreement, the plant will shut down, as four others have in the United States since the beginning of the Great Recession because of power costs.
A Santee Cooper spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment. But Laura Varn has said in the past the utility is hopeful an agreement is reached but that Santee Cooper also faces the pressure of rising fuel costs and the costs of government regulation.
"We've been at it 10 months now and quite frankly we should be further along than we are," Rousseau said. "We're having some discussions around that we see what we can do in the short term and then what we can do in the long term."
Alcoa has a June deadline to inform Santee Cooper if it is going to renew its power contract. Gov. Nikki Haley visited the plant last fall and promised workers that the power costs would not result in a shutdown.
Scott said after touring the plant while there is nothing he can do directly about the talks, but he has been in contact with representatives from both sides encouraging them to keep talking even after lengthy negotiations.
"The fact that it's been going on for months means both sides are still engaged and looking for a solution," he said. "What we need today is not a federal solution. What we need is a common sense solution that doesn't come from the federal government."
In the long term, he said, the federal government can play a role by helping develop more domestic energy sources and lowering the cost of fuel.
Asked later about the prayer, Scott said "sometimes you need to do the most important thing which may not be the most comfortable thing. And that is to bow your head, take your hat off and said 'I need help.' That's what I felt in my heart would be the best thing to do."