Alachua County Commissioners Formally Discuss Plans for New Biomass Plant
Published October 23rd, 2012
GAINESVILLE - It's a project that's been in the works for well over a decade. But now, as the Gainesville biomass plant comes closer to being reality, Alachua County commissioners wanted their chance to hear directly from Gainesville Regional Utilities, in an attempt to answer any lingering questions.
In a two hour presentation, GRU general manager Bob Hunzinger explained to commissioners how the city and utility settled on the idea of using biomass as a fuel source. Citing volatile oil prices and a possible tightening of energy regulations, Hunzinger says the new biomass plant will help give the utility more leverage, and make energy bills more predictable as a result. "It's important for commercial and large investors that budget once a year. They might like to know what their fuel costs might be," says Hunzinger.
But considering that more than one-third of GRU's customers live outside the city of Gainesville, some are now calling for a change in the way the utility is governed. As it stands right now, the Gainesville City Commission acts as a 'Board of Directors' for GRU; because the utility is owned by the city, commissioners get the final say on whether or not to move forward with big projects, like biomass. That leaves the 30% of GRU customers who live outside the city without representation in the process.
Gainesville city commissioner Todd Chase is calling for a change. He says a wider variety of people, other than city commissioners, need to have the final say when it comes to taking on big projects. "GRU takes direction from the city commission. What I've learned in my year-and-a-half in office is that over the last decade, the policies and the direction that the city commission has taken this utility, is in a way that's not beneficial to the customers." He cites GRU's rising utility rates as one example.
But Commissioner Chase is not alone in his sentiments. Many residents took advantage of Tuesday's meeting to express their opposition. "I don't think elected officials, who are making decisions for the city, have any business being the board of directors for the utility. That gives them the keys to the piggy bank so to speak," says Kevin Riordan, an Alachua County resident and one of the 30% of GRU customers who live outside the city.
Because Tuesday night's meeting was strictly informational, no vote was taken by county commissioners. But some outspoken opponents of the biomass plant say they hope that the meeting will spark additional conversation, and potentially change the way GRU gets approval for projects in the future.
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