Light maker wants to sock it to Chicago City Hall, contractor, alleging rigged $160M lighting project

By Dan Churney | Nov 20, 2017

A suburban manufacturer of electric lighting units is blowing its fuse, and as an outlet is in federal court, alleging the city of Chicago, a municipal financing group and an energy service provider short-circuited the bidding process for a huge public lighting modernization project, to exclude the manufacturer's lights in favor of General Electric products.

NeptunLighting filed an antitrust suit Nov. 17 in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois against City Hall, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust and Ameresco Inc. Neptun alleged defendants rigged the bidding process to use General Electric lights, instead of what Neptun claimed are its finer products.

Neptun, which is based in Lake Forest, said its products are used in commercial, industrial and governmental infrastructural applications around the globe.

Chicago Infrastructure Trust is a nonprofit group that helps city furnish “alternative financing and project delivery options for transformative infrastructure projects,” according to court papers.

Ameresco is an “independent provider of comprehensive energy services,” the suit said. That company is based in Framingham, Mass.

Neptun's complaint centers on the request from the city and the Infrastructure Trust in November 2016 for proposals from companies for the $160 million Chicago Smart Lighting Project. The project's aim is to update the city's outdoor public lighting, by converting from high-pressure sodium lights to LED technology. Ameresco's proposal was chosen in January 2017.

Ameresco eventually told Neptun it would not be subcontracted to supply lights. Instead, several other manufacturers' products would be used, with General Electric to supply almost half the lights. Neptun said it could not understand why its products were not chosen, because they were superior to GE's and were a better buy.

Neptun said it asked, but did not get an answer from Ameresco. However, City Hall said Neptun's products did not furnish the “best value combination of factors” offered by the other manufacturers, in particular GE. The desired factors were that the lights be locally made and the manufacturer have “large-scale experience.” Neptun said it easily met both requirements.

The third and fourth factors concerned the quality of sealing around lights and the lights' longevity. Neptun said it outranked GE on these counts.

Neptun alleged City Hall, the Infrastructure Trust and Ameresco engaged in an “unlawful and predetermined agreement” to pick GE's lights, which were clearly outshone by Neptun's and did not satisfy the city's specifications for the project.

As evidence of this alleged illegal restraint of trade, Neptun said the city started installing GE lights in neighborhoods before the proposals for the project were even due.

Neptun claimed it lost “tens of millions of dollars” through defendants' actions, including money Neptun spent on third-party testing of its lights to show they were top class.

Neptun wants defendants to pay the maximum damages allowed by law, plus interest and its legal costs. Neptun also wants the plug pulled on the city's deal with Ameresco.

The company further alleged Chicago residents will be less safe, because of inferior lighting and will have to fork over extra tax dollars in the long run for lights.

NeptunLight is represented by the New York City firm of Kundu PLLC and the Chicago firm of Douglas Whitney Law Offices.

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Organizations in this Story

Ameresco, Inc. City of Chicago General Electric U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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