GRU Gas Leak

A gas worker for Gainesville Regional Utilities, digs around a broken gas line.

Receiving a costly utility bill means tough choices for Sarah Dean.

This month, it was her $695 bill from Gainesville Regional Utilities versus buying a car seat for her baby due next month.

With a 3-year-old daughter at home, the 26-year-old Gainesville resident doesn’t really have an option, she said.

“The light bill is going to win every time,” she said.

In recent months, some GRU customers have received higher-than-normal utility bills and taken to social media to express their frustration. GRU rates have not changed since October, but there has been an increase in customer usage due to the cold weather, wrote Chief Customer Officer Bill Shepherd in an email. Increased usage along with a 2 percent base-rate increase that went into effect Oct. 1 could have caused higher utility bills.

“Weather is a primary driver to utility bills,” he wrote. “Very cold and very hot weather will have a direct impact on the cost of heating or cooling your home.”

Even people who don’t use their heat excessively would see an increase in cold weather because air-conditioning systems work hard to maintain the same setting when it’s colder outside, Shepherd wrote.

The cold weather isn’t a satisfactory answer for Dean. She doesn’t believe that a drop in temperature justifies the doubling of her electric bill.

The increases especially came as a surprise to her considering how the city commission suggested rates would decrease as a result of purchasing the Deerhaven Renewable Energy Center, she said.

In November, Mayor Lauren Poe said the purchase would bring down bills 8 to 10 percent as early as January, according to Alligator archives. Shepherd said customers can look forward to about an 8 percent decrease in the electric portion of their bills by Thursday.

Dean even received a pamphlet along with her utility bill this month, assuring customers that they’ll see a drop in their bills come February, she said. Even if GRU follows through on its promise to cut electric bills, she said it won’t be much help considering the recent increase.

“It’s going to be a lot easier for them to cut 10 percent off of a $700 bill than it is a $300 bill,” she said.

Dean, a member of Gainesville Word of Mouth, a Facebook group, said other GRU customers have shared their own grievances about recent utility bill increases, which means it’s not an isolated problem.

“If it was just us, I would say, ‘Cool, you know, maybe it is our problem,’ but it’s more than just that because it’s people who live all over Gainesville,” she said.

Contact Jessica Giles at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jessica_giles_.

Jessica Giles is a junior journalism major and Commission Reporter for The Alligator. Starting as a copyeditor in the Spring 2017, she now covers all city and county affairs. She'll never turn down a cup of coffee or the opportunity to pet a beagle.