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updated: 4/11/2014 6:19 AM

Geneva residents voicing electricity cost complaints

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Geneva residents are joining Batavians in complaining about the rising cost of electricity provided by their utility departments, and they are blaming it on the investment in the Prairie State Energy Campus.

"My cost has increased by about 17 percent over the last two years, while ComEd has decreased," resident William Scown told the Geneva City Council Monday.

Scown said the cost per megawatt hour for Prairie State electricity is much higher than what was advertised when the city contracted for it, via its participation in a power cooperative, in 2007.

He said city officials were told the cost would be $46 per megawatt hour, according to a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

The actual rate was $64.45, for June through December of 2013, according to the report by the institute, a nonprofit working to reduce coal-based electricity.

"Our investment in Prairie State is draining money from the community, and if it continues, it puts our jobs and our tax base at risk," Scown said.

He pointed out that Batavia last month changed its electrical rates at the request of large-use industrial customers, to lessen the impact of cost increases on those customers.

The costs will be shifted on to other Batavia utility customers, unless the city sells some of its electricity.

Geneva belongs to the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency, along with Batavia and Rochelle.

The agency owns a little more than 7 percent of the Prairie State Energy Campus, a coal-fired plant and coal mine in southwestern Illinois.

Agency members signed agreements, which expire in 2041, to buy the power.

The Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency is required to pay for the electricity regardless of whether it needs its full allotment.

Scown urged the council to have a community forum, where ways to mitigate the rising cost could be discussed.

Resident Llona Steel reminded the council that state Rep. Tim Schmitz, whose district covers part of Geneva, in February asked the Illinois attorney general to investigate whether Peabody Energy, the original owners and developers of Prairie State, committed fraud when they solicited investors for the plant, by presenting inaccurate information about the cost of construction and the cost of power.

Peabody eventually sold all but 5 percent of its stake in the plant.

Nobody on the council responded to the residents' comments during the meeting, and Geneva's electrical superintendent, Mike Buffington, was not at the meeting.

Buffington, president of the power agency, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

In the budget adopted Monday, the city expects to spend $27.8 million per year to buy electricity.

After Monday's meeting, Mayor Kevin Burns said it was important to remember the investment in Prairie State is long-term.

Members were looking for ways to diversify their electricity portfolios in a newly deregulated market when the investment was made.

ComEd's prices have dropped partly because of its use of electricity from natural-gas-fired plants; as the price of natural gas dipped to historic lows in recent years, electrical prices then declined, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

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