Batavia to ask attorney general to investigate electricity deal

Posted9/24/2014 5:30 AM

Heeding the cry of dissatisfied residents, Batavia officials plan to ask the Illinois attorney general to investigate the city's investment in the Prairie State Energy Campus.

The joint committees of the whole Tuesday agreed unanimously to do so, on the recommendation of the mayor and city administrators.

"To ask for help from an outside source further shows the public either that we didn't do anything wrong or we didn't walk in to this project with anything but the best of intentions," Alderman Dan Chanzit said. He was not on the council in 2007 when the final vote to participate in Prairie State was taken.

Other aldermen said an investigation by an impartial party would help settle the question for residents as to whether the city was misled.

"The complexity is we are somewhat asking for an investigation into something that we are a part owner (of), too," Mayor Jeff Schielke said.

Batavia did not directly buy in to the Prairie State coal mine and generation plant in southwestern Illinois. It is a member of the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency, which owns 7.5 percent of Prairie State. Batavia borrowed $240 million for its share of the investment and is on the hook to repay $15 million a year through 2040.

Batavia utility customers have complained that the cost of electricity produced by the plant is extraordinarily higher than what consultants said it would be.

The construction cost also doubled.

The city is required to buy a certain amount of Prairie State-generated power, whether it needs it or not. It has had trouble selling excess power; in 2013 it took a $1 million loss on sales.

Alderman Alan Wolff said he was "torn" about his vote. "I would like to see if there is anything out there. But we also have to remember if the attorney general does go after them (Prairie State, the Northern Illinois Municipal Power Agency or consultants) in a suit, we as members of NIMPA will be paying for defense. We will be paying for it from both sides."

The committee's action surprised resident Betsy Zinser, who has been looking into the Prairie State matter for several years and pushing for an investigation.

"I was thankful that the mayor has taken leadership on this and made a recommendation to the staff in this favor. I was thrilled that there was a unanimous vote taken on this, and I hope this will prompt the attorney general to actually step up and do an investigation on this," she said.

The city's lawyer will draft the request, and the council will then take a formal vote. Mayor Jeff Schielke said it may take a few weeks to get this done.

Several residents have filed a class action lawsuit, naming the city as a respondent in discovery, contending there was negligence on the part of the city's consultants.

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