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posted: 5/21/2014 5:30 AM

Batavia, Geneva residents teaming up on electrical-plant issue

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A movement critical of Geneva and Batavia's investment in a coal-fired electricity plant picked up steam Tuesday on two fronts.

About 60 people attended a meeting of the Sierra Club of the Fox Valley to learn about the cities' involvement with the Prairie State Energy Campus, a 2012 mine-to-mouth electrical plant in southwestern Illinois.

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They agreed to keep meeting every two weeks to come up with ways to get elected city officials to look for ways out of the 30-year contract for power from the plant. Some in the audience thought officials should be pressured to get out of the investment on environmental reasons, horrified that the cities invested in coal-based energy.

But Sierra Club member Eric Weck said it would be better to focus their efforts on the economics. "This is about contractual language with a powerful organization ... don't focus on coal. Say 'Besides destroying the environment, you are paying a premium to do so,'" Weck said.

Audience members were encouraged to learn that earlier Tuesday, state Reps. Michael Fortner and Tim Schmitz, and state Sens. Karen McConnaughay, Jim Oberweis and Sue Rezin filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Batavia, seeking contracts between the city and the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency, the intergovernmental agreement that formed NIMPA, and power-supply contracts between Prairie State and NIMPA.

Earlier this spring, Schmitz asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to investigate Peabody Energy's sale of the Prairie State plant to eight public power agencies, including NIMPA, to see if fraudulent representations were made. NIMPA owns 7.5 percent of the plant; Peabody initially said it would retain 40 percent ownership, but cut that back to a 5 percent stake.

The cost of the electricity coming from the plant is much higher than was promoted by Peabody when NIMPA -- to which Batavia, Geneva and Rochelle belong -- was signing on to the investment. It was supposed to be $46 per megawatt hour. This year, the cost is being billed at about $70, said Betsy Zinser, a Batavia resident who helped organize the meeting. Zinser, who belongs to the Sierra Club, has been studying the power plant question for several years. Those increased costs are being passed on to the city's utility customers.

Members of the Sierra Club of the Fox Valley helped organize Tuesday's meeting, which was at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Geneva.

The congregation is active in environmental causes. Many of the people in the crowd identified themselves as members of the Sierra Club, the church, or both. The national Sierra Club has a goal of eliminating coal-fired electrical plants.

Batavia aldermen Steve Vasilion, Dan Chanzit and Marty Callahan also attended the first part of the meeting.

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