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Naperville electricity deal a real mess

12 SEPT. 2010 -- LIVELY GROVE TOWNSHIP, Washington County, Ill. -- The smoke stack from the Prairie State Energy Campus towers over a field of ripening soybeans in Lively Grove Township in Washington County, Ill. Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010. The energy campus, which is still under construction in southern Illinois about 50 miles southeast of St. Louis, includes both a coal mine and an electric generation plant. According to Prairie State, Unit One of the power plant will go on line in the fourth quarter of 2011, with Unit Two scheduled to begin operation in the third quarter of 2012.   Photo by Sid Hastings • Special to The Naperville Sun

12 SEPT. 2010 -- LIVELY GROVE TOWNSHIP, Washington County, Ill. -- The smoke stack from the Prairie State Energy Campus towers over a field of ripening soybeans in Lively Grove Township in Washington County, Ill. Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010. The energy campus, which is still under construction in southern Illinois about 50 miles southeast of St. Louis, includes both a coal mine and an electric generation plant. According to Prairie State, Unit One of the power plant will go on line in the fourth quarter of 2011, with Unit Two scheduled to begin operation in the third quarter of 2012. Photo by Sid Hastings • Special to The Naperville Sun

When I last commented on our electricity rates, and our participation in the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency, I wrote that “Naperville officials are still comfortable with their decision, and most of the establishment still believes that it will work out in the long run.” Somehow, many readers got the impression that I too think that, in the long run, it was the right decision.

No, I do not. When Peabody Energy convinced all those municipalities, including us, to become defacto owners of the Prairie State coal plant they made cost and supply projections that did not, and I think they knew could not, come to pass.

Recently, Illinois State Rep. Timothy Schmitz (R-Batavia) has written Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, requesting that she investigate “possible fraud or misrepresentation by Peabody Energy that led to several municipalities in Illinois investing in the Prairie State Energy Campus.” I strongly believe our representatives should do the same.

Batavia, which is committed to buy more electricity than it can use and sells the excess at a loss, is looking at a 10 percent increase in electricity rates plus a half percent increase in its sales tax, without which the electric increase would be 16 percent. We are looking at at least a 13 percent increase over two years.

The wholesale price of electricity is purposely obscured to prevent comparisons. All I know is that we are currently paying something like $98 per megawatt hour. Although the wholesale price fluctuates wildly, and the clearing price is usually higher, as I write this it is $47, down from $55 yesterday.

Although the IMEA buys its electricity from “various sources including renewables,” it appears that only 6 percent is from renewables and more than 80 percent is from coal, by far the most polluting of all energy sources.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, meeting Wednesday in Japan, states that the effects of climate change are occurring several decades earlier, and will be far more devastating, than we previously thought. As the climate deniers are forced to become believers, coal plants will become an increasing financial liability, and could actually be banned before the end of the 28-year contract we have with the IMEA.

And it’s not just CO2. The millions of tons of ash from burning coal contain arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and a number of other heavy and radioactive metals. That ash is simply piled near the plant, allowing water to leach the toxins into waterways. Coal ash liner failures and spills are common and deadly. Potential lawsuits could make the past $1 billion to $2 billion overrun at Prairie State look like small change.

That’s just the financial liability. There is also the moral liability. Peabody intends to extend the Cottage Grove strip mine and essentially wipe out the town of Rocky Branch. This entails clear cutting in the Shawnee Forest and destroying 35,000 feet of natural waterways, all to feed the Prairie State plant. Peabody has already moved in clear cutting equipment during the dead of night, despite not having secured the proper permits. You and I are endorsing and supporting those actions every time we turn on a light.

No, it was not a good decision to sign a long term, ridiculously iron clad contract that had absolutely no performance provisions. That agreement should be binding only if the promised rate and supply conditions were met and cost overruns were limited.

And no, I don’t like being forced to fund global warming, water pollution, clear cutting the Shawnee National Forest, and destroying farming communities. It is not “fiscally responsible” to overpay for electricity and remain part of the IMEA because somebody took advantage of us. It is stupid.

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