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Thursday, July 07, 2022

After it was revealed last month that Gainesville Regional Utility ratepayers have been overcharged since 2013, city officials took steps forward during a City Commission meeting Thursday to reclaiming the several hundred thousand dollars lost.

During the meeting, commissioners approved a request by GRU’s general manager to partner with the law firm Akerman LLP to provide legal counsel as the utility company moves to reclaim lost money from Gainesville Renewable Energy Center and stop overcharges.

The overcharges were the result of the Construction Cost Adjuster’s miscalculation in the city’s 30-year biomass-plant contract with GREC, according to an audit released by the City Auditor last month. The audit found GREC has overcharged GRU $872,498 since December 2013, when the biomass plant went online — an overcharge passed on to GRU customers, city officials say.

GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski said before the meeting that the amount lost is likely higher, as the audit went only until July and the report was presented in September.

GREC denies it is overcharging GRU.

"There is absolutely no error in the calculation of the Construction Cost Adjuster," GREC Chief Financial Officer Albert Morales wrote in a statement. "It is calculated exactly per the letter of the agreement, and exactly as the parties intended."

The audit recommends GRU consider means to reclaim the money lost in overcharges and enforce a contract definition of the exchange rate, which would save GRU $56,826 per month.

Bielarski decided to acquire outside legal counsel following the audit’s recommendations. Further actions are under consideration, Bielarski said.

"At this point, we’re still in a dispute phase (with GREC)," Bielarski said. Under contract agreements, GRU and GREC have 30 days to resolve the issue, he added.

If an agreement is not reached within the timeline, GRU could go to arbitration, he said.

Akerman LLP has done prior work for the city related to the contract, according to the City Attorney’s office. GRU will cover the costs of Akerman LLP’s services, which is not expected to exceed $100,000, using budgeted funds for legal expenses or from unanticipated cost savings.

Contact Hunter Williamson at hwilliamson@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @hunterewilliam

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