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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Gainesville: The Rise of GRU

Residents experience rising utility rates

<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-e0bc17e7-7fff-cb75-76e4-0135477fd8d0"><span>Harold Saive, 75, holds up a protest sign while Jason Davis, 46, stands behind him noon Thursday along University Avenue outside of City Hall. Saive said he believes that most people support the cause but are too timid to protest in person. “For every person who shows up here there’s a thousand behind them who agree,” Saive said.</span></span></p>

Harold Saive, 75, holds up a protest sign while Jason Davis, 46, stands behind him noon Thursday along University Avenue outside of City Hall. Saive said he believes that most people support the cause but are too timid to protest in person. “For every person who shows up here there’s a thousand behind them who agree,” Saive said.

As inflation continues and gas prices soar, Gainesville residents fear monthly utility bills.

A Facebook post linking a petition to lower climbing Gainesville Regional Utilities rates garnered 263 comments as of Sunday. Angela Casteel, a 46-year-old Gainesville resident who made the petition, said her June bill was about $100 more than in previous months. Residents can voice concerns during public comment at the utility advisory board meeting July 19.

Residents' bills increase during summer months because they use more power to cool homes, David Warm, the director of communications for GRU, wrote, but a global surge in natural gas prices caused higher-than-anticipated energy bills across the country

GRU had increased the fuel portion of its electric bill to keep up with rising costs. Due to supplier costs, GRU’s fuel adjustment fee more than doubled from 3 cents per kWh-hour to 8 cents per kWh-hour, he said.

“What people pay at the pump is just a fraction of the cost of what GRU has to pay to power the natural gas turbines,” City Commissioner and mayoral candidate David Arreola said.

GRU’s electric bill has two components: a base rate that covers operation costs and the fuel adjustment fee that is rising alongside rising natural gas prices, Edward Bielarski, the former GRU general manager, said.

Arreola said the Deerhaven Renewable Generation Station, one of three energy plants the city bought for $750 million in 2017, is one of the top fuel-efficient biomass energy plants in the country.

“Even though GRU is a leader in the state, for renewable energy, we rely heavily on natural gas, and so those prices have just skyrocketed,” Arreola said.

Homes that are not energy-efficient can exacerbate the problems with prices. Residents, especially students, who rent older houses see higher utility rates, City Commissioner and mayoral candidate David Arreola said.

City regulations requiring landlords to abide by and adapt older homes to modern energy efficiency standards will go into effect over the next four years. The city also offers payment plans to assist residents with their bill. Warm said customers struggling to pay their utility bills should call GRU’s customer service department and follow energy saving tips.

Some residents, like Casteel and Whitney Richardson, were concerned issues with inconsistent meter readings might bill residents more. The city approved an Advanced Meter Infrastructure system in February that would read meters automatically every day.

Jasmine Reyes, a 19-year-old Santa Fe College dental hygiene sophomore who lives at The Nook, works overtime to pay her utility bill, which she said more than doubled in the past month.

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“Rent alone is too high for students to meet, and utilities being nearly a quarter of the rent is even more ridiculous,” she wrote.

Contact Mickenzie Hannon at mhannon@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @MickenzieHannon.

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Mickenzie Hannon

Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.


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