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Friday, May 24, 2024

Underneath two white tents, Gainesville Regional Utilities and Shands at UF representatives stood on the gravel of the GRU South Energy Center's construction site Thursday.

According to a UF press release, it will be the first campus hospital and energy center powered by natural gas east of the Mississippi River.

The center will provide utility services for Shands at UF Cancer Hospital as well as the south campus of Shands.

This would allow for the hospital to continue operating during emergencies where there would be energy deficiencies, said Chuck Heidt, GRU project manager.

"If the entire community is in a blackout, the center will still have power," Heidt said.

The ceremony began at the construction site south of Archer road and directly across from Shands.

Green shovels bordered the tents to represent the "broad energy saving plan," said Karen Johnson, GRU general manager, in a speech at the ceremony.

Heidt said construction began a month ago.

The three-story building will stand at 100 feet, Heidt said. It's scheduled to be completed by December 2008.

The project has a ,38 million budget provided by GRU, Heidt said.

Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said GRU's plan is "groundbreaking."

"All Federal research tax dollars are paying off here in Florida," she said, in a speech to the ceremony audience.

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Ed Regan, GRU strategic planning director, said powering the center with natural gas would save ,7 million or ,8 million each year. That's about 46 percent savings versus the cost if the center were powered by fossil fuels.

Timothy Goldfarb, CEO of Shands HealthCare, said GRU offered Shands a reliable power.

"It's clean in terms of the level of power," Goldfarb said. "It's continuous, there are no blips and it's an environmentally clean system."

The center will be the first facility to combine heat and power using a gas-fired combustion turbine engine, which will have very low emissions, Heidt said.

The energy center would produce "safe, clean efficient energy to serve the public," Goldfarb said.

Under a 50-year contract with Shands, GRU will own and operate the center. GRU will also occupy the land under a 99-year lease, Heidt said.

"They were a natural potential partner," said Goldfarb. "We talked to several people around the country. Honestly, home cooking was the best."

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