Gainesville, FL Ratepayers Demand Biomass Refund

-by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of Gainesville City Hall on August 2 to demand that Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) repay $15 million to ratepayers—$194 per household—for high electric rates associated with the construction of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC), a 100-megawatt biomass incinerator scheduled to go online in 2013. Protesters accused the utility of overcharging ratepayers to cover future costs of acquiring wood for the incinerator, despite a decrease in the utility’s current fuel costs.

One protester, registered nurse and Gainesville resident Debbie Martinez [pictured above], also asked the Alachua County Commission on August 14 to request that the City of Gainesville and GRU “return the two years in electricity overcharges to GRU customers” and to cease the overcharging. “$15 million dollars in overcharges is approximately $194 for every family, many who are struggling to put food on the table and provide medicine for their loved ones,” said Martinez.

In April 2012, Gainesville Citizens CARE filed a lawsuit in Florida Circuit Court to annul a thirty year, $3 billion Power Purchase Agreement contract between GRU and developers American Renewables. The lawsuit asks that “the contract negotiated behind closed doors in violation of the Sunshine Law be declared void and without legal effect.” The Sunshine Law is a 1967 Florida statute mandating government transparency. Changes allegedly made in secret, without public disclosure, include an extension of the contract from 20 to 30 years, a cost increase of 25%, and the removal of a “back door out clause” that would’ve allowed “the contract to be cancelled after its last regulatory approval and before the commencement of construction.”

In a Gainesville Sun opinion piece on August 10, Gainesville attorney Ray Washington wrote that if the Power Purchase Agreement stands, by 2013 it will “require GRU to begin paying GREC double the market rate for electricity. This is an economic shock this community does not need and can ill afford.” Washington also condemns the GRU “overcharges,” stating they “represent money taken, without explicit legal authority, from already strapped GRU ratepayers.”

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