GRU

Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager Edward Bielarski Jr discusses increasing electric rates with the Gainesville City Commission on Wednesday during a meeting. Gas rates will increase by 0.57 percent, wastewater by 0.42 percent and water by 0.44 percent.

Gainesville City Commissioners will discuss a potential 30-year contract between Gainesville Regional Utilities and Florida Power & Light during its Thursday meeting.

The meeting will begin at 1 p.m. in the City Hall Auditorium. Known for having the highest municipal utility rates in the state, GRU remains a controversial issue in Gainesville.  

Edward Bielarski Jr., general manager of GRU, spoke at the Jan. 9 Utility Advisory Board meeting about a plan to reduce GRU debt, lower utility rates and lessen reliance on fossil fuels. He said GRU has four options: It could maintain the status quo, replace its equipment, exit the business or create a hybrid solution.

The hybrid solution includes a partnership with FPL, he said. FPL is a power utility company that services over 10 million Floridians. The plan would begin in 2022 and save GRU up to $400 million, Bielarski said. It would also advance the commission’s goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

Five GRU power plants are over three decades old, Bielarski said. The new plan would help GRU avoid building new plants by itself.

“Quite frankly, it is not a sustainable business model,” Bielarski said, before telling the commission to authorize him to continue pursuing the plan with FPL.

Bielarski wrote in an email to The Alligator that while it’s too early to discuss the absolute impact this contract will have on electric rates, GRU imagines it will lead to rates falling “far below where they are projected to go.” 

During the meeting, Tim Rockwell, a member on the board, asked FPL representative Matt Pawlowski if he would be willing to commit to being 50 percent green. Pawlowski replied that he was uncomfortable with that measure.

When asked about how this plan will impact GRU employees, Bielarski said that some employees, such as those in fossil fuel burning plants, may lose their jobs. He said training and apprenticeship programs will evolve, but he was unwilling to provide additional information.

Bielarski said that because GRU must reduce its debt before lowering rates, it’s too soon to be certain about future electric rates. However, he was clear that jobs will be lost.

“We will be eliminating positions in the future and assisting any displaced workers with other opportunities within the city,” Bielarski wrote. 

The contract between FPL and GRU is a major decision, said City Commissioner David Arreola. He said there will be critics of GRU and citizens with genuine concerns who will come forward with questions.

“My job is to review all the options and evaluate if making this decision is in the interest of the people of Gainesville,” Arreola said.

Contact Grethel Aguila at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GrethelAguila.