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Monday, May 23, 2022

Gainesville City Commission discussed the option of buying a controversial biomass plant Thursday during an informational session about the option.

The biomass plant has been a center of harsh criticism in recent years, with opponents blaming it for leading, at least in part, to high Gainesville Regional Utilities bills.

GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski Jr. said discussions were underway with the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, which owns the biomass plant, to arrange for negotiations.

Buying the plant is one of many options to withdraw from or renegotiate a 30-year biomass contract between GRU and GREC, commissioners said.

Mayor Ed Braddy has said any plan to purchase the biomass would have to benefit the city and GRU customers relative to the current situation.

Bielarski said the goal is to come up with a plan that benefits GRU, its customers and GREC.

“I want us to hear ‘what are the pros and cons?’…and then we’ll proceed from that,” Braddy said.

Bielarski said he will move forward in discussions with GREC.

“It won’t be anything decided,” he said. “It will be trying to reach an agreement that I can bring back here and talk to the commission and have it publicly vetted.”

Commissioners are concerned about confidential negotiations between GRU and GREC if talks were to progress, and they said they don’t want to make the same mistake previous commissioners made when they approved the biomass contract.

“It’s very typical of any kind of negotiation to have a non-disclosure (agreement)… because you’re looking for a final product to come out that will be fully vetted,” Bielarski said.

City Commissioner Craig Carter said he’d like negotiations to be more transparent.

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“That would be a problem for me... because (GREC has) controlled this from the very beginning and I would love to see us actually start controlling this,” he said.

“I think the people that are representing the citizens need to be involved with this one,” Carter added.

Thursday’s discussion came after GREC filed for arbitration against GRU last month, claiming that GRU was withholding about $223,000 in payments. GRU later agreed to pay the money.

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

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