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Geneva residents raise concerns about city’s electric costs

Published: Friday, April 18, 2014 4:18 p.m. CST

GENEVA – City residents are concerned about the cost of electricity in Geneva, and what the future holds for possible rate increases.

Residents Bill Scown and Llona Steele spoke to the Geneva city council recently, airing their concerns about the city’s investment in Prairie State Energy Campus. 

Geneva is a member of – and has a contract with – Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency for an entitlement share of 35 megawatts in Prairie State Generating Company. The company owns Prairie State Energy Campus in downstate Marissa, a coal-fired power plant, according to the city’s website.

Steele read from a Feb. 28 letter from Illinois State Rep. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, in which he calls for an investigation “into possible fraud or misrepresentation by Peabody Energy that led to several municipalities in Illinois to invest in the Prairie State Energy Campus.”

The project was marketed to communities and cooperatives as a “secure, low-cost electricity source” to build a 1,500-megawatt generating power plant with a coal mine next to it, providing necessary fuel, according to Schmitz’s letter. 

He noted that in addition to Geneva, Batavia and Rochelle also are members of NIMPA. The project went from an estimated cost of $2 billion to $5 billion in 2010, Schmitz wrote.

“Extensive cost overruns and poor generating capacity have resulted in Illinois ratepayers being charged exorbitant energy prices in the short run and responsible for unforeseen costs over the life of the contracts,” Schmitz wrote. 

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said it was the first time officials had heard of Schmitz’s letter.

“I respect the fact that he wants to support his constituents,” Burns said. 

Scown blamed an increase in his electric costs on Geneva being one of 300 communities that have invested in Prairie State Energy Campus. According to the city’s website, its electric utility keeps its rates stable by receiving power from its own facility, landfill gas generation, as well as its investment in the energy campus.

“I would like to see a public discussion of how best to deal with these high and increasing costs of power from Prairie State,” Scown said. “I would like to see discussion of this problem out of the closet.”

Burns said officials were unable to discuss the issue at a meeting last week because Public Works Director Dan Dinges and Electric Superintendent Michael Buffington were not available to answer technical questions.

“We have met with Mr. Scown for over two hours and ... and for all practical purposes, his questions were answered,” Burns said. “He left the meeting with a greater appreciation for that investment and how it would benefit the city of Geneva in the long term. To then stand before the council a few months later and claim a lack of transparency – where he found all information he sought on the website – and to accuse Prairie State of fraud, is baseless.”

Burns said officials have evidence that the aggregate electrical market is inching up, and by summer, the city’s rates will be lower than the aggregate.

Schmitz did not return messages seeking comment about his letter to Madigan. A spokesman from Madigan’s office was unable to comment about the status of Schmitz’s letter. 

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