Action delayed on GRU plant

Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 1:07 a.m.
The Gainesville City Commission met for almost six hours Monday night to consider a Gainesville Regional Utilities proposal to build a new, coal-fired power plant.
But as the meeting broke up shortly before midnight, the commissioners had yet to vote on a motion regarding the plant. Instead, the commission finally voted 6-1 to meet again at the next available date to continue the discussion.
Two motions were proposed during the meeting, both of which would have required an independent review of GRU's proposal, but both were withdrawn. Commissioner Rick Bryant proposed having an independent review of the utility's conclusions, and Commissioner Craig Lowe put forward a motion that would have created an independent review guided by several specific criteria.
The primary issue before the commission was whether to adopt a set of GRU recommendations that would open the way for design and construction of a mixed-fuel power plant that would utilize coal, wood and petroleum coke.
GRU General Manager Mike Kurtz said during the meeting that utility staff had spent the past 18 months developing a strategy to counter a predicted local energy shortfall forecast for 2012.
"We may or may not have done a good job" settling on a strategy, Kurtz told city commissioners at the start of the special city meeting. But, getting guidance from the commission is "what this meeting is about," he said Ed Regan, GRU assistant general manager for strategic planning, said plans for the plant were still at an early stage and could be reversed by the commission at a later date. Even if the commission approved GRU's recommendations today, Regan said, a number of steps remain before construction could begin, such as hiring a consultant, approving budgets and settling on a design.
"No earth would be turned until the fall of 2008," Regan said.
Regan added that at this point, it isn't even known what size plant would be built. While GRU's 1-year planning process has focused on a 220-megawatt model, Regan said Monday the utility doesn't want to "constrain ourselves to a specific solution at this time."
Later, he added that a final plant size could be "slightly bigger, maybe smaller. We're hearing a lot of concern about the size."
More than once during the meeting, residents said they would like to see an independent board established to review the utility's plans.
Critics of the utility's proposal have repeatedly urged for a delay.
The Alachua County Environmental Protection Advisory Committee, for example, asked for increased conservation strategies and an enhanced commitment to wood-burning alternatives. In addition, the environmental committee asked commissioners to direct GRU to produce a safer, heathier and more sustainable power production option, without relying on coal.
"We think GRU hasn't provided us with any real alternatives," said David Harlos, a committee member.
John Mousa, with the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, also expressed apprehension for the proposal on the table.
"Our concern is making sure that whatever technology is chosen is the best technology there is," Mousa said.
While most residents who spoke Monday night were critical of the plant proposal, several members of Gainesville's business community, wearing green "Move Forward" buttons, defended GRU's plan.
"We feel this is a balanced proposal that has gone through a lot of vetting over the last 18 months," Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce President Brent Christensen said outside the meeting.
Marilyn Tubb, former chamber chairwoman, urged the commission to have faith in GRU's staff and research.
"Trust your professional staff and trust the process," she said.
"We trust you to do the right thing and move forward."
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 374-5095 or

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