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Monday, October 18, 2021

The Alachua County Commission decided Tuesday to consider the costs of using other energy providers after learning that Gainesville Regional Utility's biomass contract will increase the county's utility bill.

Charlie Jackson, Alachua County facilities manager, said the biomass plant, which will burn wood to generate electricity, would cause the county utility bill to jump by about $200,000 a year starting in 2014. Utility bills currently amount to about $3 million, said Alachua County spokesman Mark Sexton.

The commission has not taken an official stance in support or opposition of Gainesville's decision to sign a $3.1 billion biomass contract, he said.

However, when the commission heard about the utility rate increase for its own buildings, it voted unanimously to have county staff look into the cost of other energy providers and research how much surrounding counties pay for electricity.

"My motivation here is to be able to draw a conclusion personally that our rates really are higher, lower or the same than others," Commissioner Paula DeLaney said.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson analyzed electricity costs in other counties and asked if it was possible to switch energy providers.

Other energy companies under consideration such as Progress Energy, which provides most of the electricity to UF, and Clay Electric Co-op may cost less, he said.

Commissioner Susan Baird said the county should examine other ways to generate electricity in an effort to keep utility rates low for residents and prospective business owners who want to come to Gainesville.

"Business utility bills are going to go up significantly," Baird said. "If you see high utility costs, you aren't going to want to come here."

While Interim County Manager Rick Drummond said he understood the commission's concern for increased utility rates among residents and businesses in the county, he said the cost analysis will focus on impacts to the county government and its utility bills.

"We are really honing in on impact to Alachua County government as opposed to doing an analysis on the impact on economic opportunity in Alachua County as a whole," Drummond said.

Six county residents stood at the meeting and spoke against the biomass plan, including City Commission at-large 1 candidate Nathan Skop, who built his part of his campaign around opposition to the biomass contract.

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Gainesville resident Paula Stamer said she appreciated that the County Commission discussed the contract and allowed public comment.

"Citizens in Gainesville have had absolutely no success in getting the city to discuss this issue," Stamer said. "Thank you for letting us talk."

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