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Geneva residents seek probe into Prairie State Energy Campus

GENEVA – Five Geneva residents and a former resident asked Mayor Kevin Burns to seek an investigation of the Prairie State Energy Campus, raising questions about Geneva's investment in the coal-fired energy plant near downstate Marissa.

The residents and former resident spoke this week at a City Council meeting, asking Burns to join State Rep. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia, in seeking a probe of the energy plant and its construction cost overruns.

Burns did not respond to the public at the time, but said later he would not ask Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Office for an investigation of the plant.

"We have no evidence to believe we were duped," Burns said. "There is only one city paying less for power than us, and that is Naperville."

Resident Bill Scown said he examined Geneva's electric rate history from 2006 to 2011.

"Over the last three years, since Prairie State started operation, the high cost to purchase power from Prairie State resulted in large electricity rate increases," Scown said. 

Scown, who said he also is speaking as a member of Sierra Club, noted the reports of an explosion of a water tank at the site, which took one of Prairie State's two 800-megawatt units offline until it can be repaired.

"Prairie State was sold to us [as] reliable, affordable and safe electricity," Scown said. "So far, it's not reliable. It's not affordable and perhaps not even safe. ... We need an investigation to determine if Geneva was intentionally deceived" into buying a share of the project in 2007.

Geneva residents Jean Pierce, Janet  Dellaria, Tom Carter and Colin Campbell – and former resident Andrea Alvarez – each asked the city to ask for an investigation into Prairie State. Alvarez is an attorney with Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst.

"The contract was signed with the understanding that our city would receive clean energy at a reasonable rate," Pierce said. "Both these promises were broken. Coal from the plant is harming the environment. Prairie State Energy Campus is the largest point source of carbon dioxide built in the last 25 years. The cost of constructing the power plant went $1 billion over budget."

Dellaria said the downstate energy campus produces  25,000 tons of soot and smog pollution each year and 748 acres of coal ash 10 stories high over its life span. All environmental cleanup or injuries resulting from the plant would be part of the city's liability, she said.

"Also remember, this is 2014 – it's a time for wind and solar and renewable energy – which comes at a much lesser cost and much lesser liability risk. Plus, the environmental impact is low," Dellaria said. "Clean coal needs to go the way of the dinosaur."

"What do you have to lose?" Campbell asked, suggesting there should be an investigation.

Burns said he welcomed input from the public, but he added that he respectfully disagreed with them.

"These people believe in 'no coal, no way nohow, never.' I ask the question, if not coal, then what is the alternative?" Burns asked. "Wind and solar? We'd be more than happy to, but the market is not there for that. Geneva citizens do not want to pay 40, 50, 60 percent more for energy."

Burns said the city is investing in renewable energy sources, but the city's involvement with Prairie State is part of an overall energy portfolio over 30 years.

"It is the most technologically advanced, most clean coal power plant of its kind," Burns said.

"We can wait for something better to come along and wait for technology to advance, but citizens and businesses are demanding energy now, and we have a fiduciary   responsibility to provide it."

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