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Global Green Lighting President & CEO Don Lepard talks about his company's lights June 7, 2016.
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EPB lawsuit

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A Chattanooga lighting company that supplied thousands of energy-efficient streetlights in Chattanooga has filed another lawsuit against the city and EPB, claiming that Mayor Andy Berke and EPB officials conspired to cut off his city contract and discredit his firm to help EPB and its smart grid network.

But EPB called the latest lawsuit from Global Green Lighting "frivolous," noting the courts have rejected previous lawsuits filed against the city and EPB from GGL and its president, Don Lepard.

Last Friday, Lepard's attorneys asked the court to drop lawsuits against EPB he filed on behalf of both East Ridge and Red Bank after EPB urged the court to force the plaintiff to pay legal expenses for what the utility claimed was a frivolous lawsuit.

But while he dropped those lawsuits, Lepard's attorney, Buddy Presley Jr., filed a new civil suit in Hamilton County Chancery Court. In a 24-page complaint, Presley charges EPB sought to block GGL's metered, LED lighting system because it threatened to expose billing mistakes in the past and offer a cheaper metering service than EPB's $220 million fiber optic, smart grid.

GGL, which is owned by Don Lepard, installed about 4,600 energy-efficient LED streetlights in Chattanooga under a contract negotiated by former Mayor Ron Littlefield in 2012. But at the urging of Mayor Andy Berke and EPB, the city terminated its contract with GGL a year ago after a city review found that nearly 40 percent of the GGL lights failed to measure any power usage and others were artificially capped.

"Too many of the lights simply didn't work as promised," David Carmody, the city's former purchasing manager and chief operating officer, said last year after the city ended its contract with Global Green Lighting.

But in his new lawsuit, Lepard insists that the lights and metering system he developed provided lower cost lighting and a more efficient method of metering power usage than EPB's fiber optic-based smart meter network, which also has given EPB gigabit-per-second internet service.

Lepard blamed many of the lighting failures on EPB subcontractors, who he claims damaged the equipment.

Lepard said the lighting and metering system he developed at GGL used a wireless lighting control combined with an already established wireless smart grid automated metering infrastructure "to enable the city to deploy a more powerful wattage LED light with higher lumen output." Lepard also asserts that his lighting system could be better managed for energy savings and to fight crime by controlling lighting levels on streetlights across Chattanooga.

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Service technicians Stacy Mann, left, and Nathen Lloyd step out of an EPB trailer with a newly installed fiber optics cable during an installation at CityGreen Apartments in Chattanooga's North Shore area earlier this year. Such services are unavailable to lots of East Hamilton County area residents.

"The same AMI (automated metering infrastructure) could have been deployed into the EPB grid for a fraction of the total cost of an infrastructure that required a fiber optics line ran to every meter owned by EPB," Presley said.

But the city and EPB contend that too many of GGL's lights failed to perform and the metering system failed to accurately measure power usage by many of the lights. The city canceled the GGL contract on March 31, 2016, after a city review found that GGL failed to fulfill its contract obligations and GGL failed to pay one of its key vendors. Sensus USA Inc., which controlled the radio signals for the lighting meters and controls to the GGL streetlights, obtained a default judgment against GGL for more than $880,000 in 2015.

The latest lawsuit by Lepard follows unsuccessful suits Lepard has filed against EPB over GGL's lighting system on behalf of local cities that pay for the streetlights.

A previous lawsuit Lepard filed on behalf of the city of Chattanooga against EPB was dismissed by Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth in 2015 because the court ruled that EPB and the city are legally the same identity and the lawsuit could not be pursued under the False Claims Act. That decision was upheld by an appeals court last year.

Lepard filed similar lawsuits against EPB on behalf of the cities of East Ridge and Red Bank, but he agreed last week to drop those suits.

Lepard contends that EPB sought to thwart his Global Green Lighting contract because it threatened the utility's streetlight contract and exposed that some of the previous billing to the city for streetlight energy use was inaccurate. The lawsuit claims EPB and Mayor Berke have engaged in a "witch hunt" against GGL.

But in a statement Wednesday, EPB denied any wrong doing and insisted the lighting system GGL installed simply didn't work as promised. Although a few universities have tested GGL's lighting system, the company has not yet sold the metered streetlights to other municipalities.

"The courts have dismissed all of Don Lepard's previous lawsuits against EPB," the utility said in a statement released by EPB Communications Vice President J. Ed. Marston. "His latest lawsuit is just as frivolous and we will defend against it as such."

Chattanooga City Attorney Wade Hinton also denied any wrongdoing by the city in the handling of the GGL contract.

"We certainly question the merit of these allegations," Hinton said. "The City of Chattanooga will refrain from commenting further, as this is pending litigation."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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