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Energy lawsuit seeks 400 ratepayers to create a class action

'We are seeking the truth'

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 10:15 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 12:45 p.m. CST
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(Brenda Schory – bschory@shawmedia.com)
Attorney Michael Duffy speaks to nearly 100 Batavia residents at a community meeting Thursday encouraging them to sign on and create a class action lawsuit to challenge their electricity rates and the city's contract with Prairie State. Joseph Marconi, right, is a Batavia businessman who filed suit this week to challenge the city's electric rates. Marconi hosted the meeting, held at the Batavia Library.

BATAVIA – Nearly 100 people turned out Thursday to a meeting called by Batavia businessman Joe Marconi, seeking plaintiffs for a class action lawsuit over the city’s investment in downstate Prairie State Energy Campus. Marconi filed suit this week in Kane County Circuit Court. But he and attorneys Michael Childress and Michael Duffy and other advocates encouraged Batavia ratepayers to consider signing onto the suit so a judge will be encouraged to certify it as a class.

Being a class means relief can be sought for all the city’s ratepayers, attorneys said.

Batavia resident Sylvia Keppel said when the city signed on for electricity and part ownership with Prairie State in 2007, ratepayers were promised cheap, clean reliable energy. 

“None of this has been realized,” Keppel said. “As our electric bills increased and complaints were brought to the city, the city’s response has been, ‘Our attorneys have looked into it. It’s an ironclad contract. There is nothing more we can do.’

“That was not good enough for Joe Marconi,” Keppel said. “Joe does not have 30 years to wait for things to get better. … We were in a big mess and what we needed was class action lawsuit.”

Duffy said the 37-page lawsuit is aimed at consultants that Batavia officials relied on to tell them what power would cost. 

“Promises that were not kept. Promises that were not delivered,” Duffy said. “Not only in terms of development but also in the way things were constructed and the way power was delivered.”

Consultants named in the lawsuit are the ones from whom money damages are being sought on behalf of Batavia ratepayers in terms of what they have overpaid so far, and what they will be calculated to overpay over the next 28 years, Duffy said. Batavia is not named as a defendant but as respondents in discovery, Duffy said, explaining in a civil case, he has six months to decide whether the city would be added as a defendant.

“We are not seeking money damages [from Batavia] but what we are seeking is the truth,” Duffy said. “We intend to ask for agreements, contracts, correspondence, emails. … We understand that there are a lot of confidential agreements between and among a lot of entities as this was developed and came to pass. We’d like to see what all that’s about.”

With 400 or so people signing on, a local judge would be inclined to certify it as a class, Childress said. Signing on to a class action does not put anyone at risk and the attorneys only get paid if there is a judgment in their favor.

“There is strength in numbers and numbers speak,” Childress said. 

Betsy Zinser of Batavia, an activist credited with providing lawyers with her research on Prairie State, said she was signing on and encouraged others to do so, as well.

“If businesses leave Batavia, those power costs have to be split among all of us,” Zinser said. “Our burden is not just what we carry today, but ramifications of when companies leave.”

A copy of the suit is posted at www.prairiestateenergycampusclassaction.com.

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