Commissioners Debate Whether to Purchase Biomass Plant
Published October 3rd, 2013
GAINESVILLE -- The question is "risk" -- Gainesville city commissioners are looking at making a major purchase that they hope would save taxpayers money in the long run... but there are a lot of variables involved. Up for consideration during a special meeting Wednesday night was whether the city should make an offer to purchase the new biomass power plant.
GREC officials first notified GRU back in August that they intended to sell their stake of the biomass plant to an outside firm. As indicated in the power purchase agreement between both parties, that gave the city 60 days, or until October 22, to decide whether or not to exercise its right of first offer to buy the plant first.
With time running out, Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy scheduled a special commission meeting Wednesday to discuss that issue further. During a presentation, officials from GRU outlined the projected impact that purchasing the plant would have electric rates, which they roughly estimate would decrease by about nine bucks a month for the average customer.
GRU officials also introduced a plan to form an intermediate company with an outside investor, temporarily called "NewCo". "NewCo" would be owned primarily by GRU, and would be the actual purchaser of the plant. By forming "NewCo", the plant would still be eligible for a 1603 "Clean Energy" grant from the federal government. The grant is only made available to private entities, not public ones like the City of Gainesville and GRU.
But it was the issue of whether or not the utility was assuming too much financial risk by buying the plant that sparked some heated debate among commissioners. After hours of detailed discussion, no decision was made on whether to make an offer for the plant. Commissioners decided to shelve the issue until Thursday's regularly scheduled commission meeting.
That allowed the commission to get to the other item on Wednesday's special agenda -- noise. Residents of the Turkey Creek community in Alachua have complained for the past few weeks that noise coming from the plant is making it hard to sleep at night. After discussing procedures that have been taken to mitigate the noise with the plant's operator and hearing from members of the public, some commissioners seemed hesitant to take any formal action, and instead urged those residents to take their own legal action againt the plant. The issue is now expected to appear before the Public Safety Commission, where any potential changes to the city's noise ordinance will be discussed.
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