County presses Gainesville for details on rate impacts of biomass plant

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 4:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 4:04 p.m.

For the second time in a little more than two months, the Alachua County Commission has pressed the city of Gainesville for information on the expected financial effects of the biomass plant now under construction.

In a letter sent to Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe on Monday, Commission Chairman Lee Pinkoson pushed for a response to a late August request for the projected rate impacts the plant will have on county government as well as Gainesville Regional Utilities customers in unincorporated Alachua County.

The county's original August request was made in a letter to GRU General Manager Bob Hunzinger. At that time county commissioners asked for a response by Sept. 6.

In this week's letter, Pinkoson wrote that Hunzinger had informed county staff that GRU officials had prepared a response but it still required Lowe's signature.

"The Alachua County Commission feels that we have the responsibility and right to ask for such information and that this should be expeditiously provided to us by a charter officer of the city of Gainesville," the letter states.

It also states that county commissioners had not taken a position for or against the biomass plant but were "curious as to why our request for this relevant financial information affecting our citizens who are GRU rate payers has not been provided."

Lowe said Tuesday that the city would send a response addressing the county's questions in a day or two. He said GRU provided him information, and he then took time to review and "scrutinize" it before sending the county a response.

Lowe added that he does not "just sign my name to things and send them on."

The county's initial letter requesting information was prepared by Nathan Skop, a former Florida Public Service Commission member. While on the PSC, Skop was part of the majority in a 3-2 vote to approve the biomass plant. He is now a critic who questions the accuracy of GRU projections that the plant will result only in an approximately $10 a month rate increase for utility customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.

Asked about the fact that Skop prepared the initial request for information, Lowe said that did not lead to any delay in a response. County commissioners always have control over how they choose to send a letter, he said.

In the August letter, the county sought "worst-case" rate impact scenarios based on this summer's electricity usage and the usage of the past year.

It also asked for the projected monthly rate impacts for 11 separate levels of usage — from 860 kilowatt hours to 5,000 kilowatt hours.

"We want to be able to plan ahead, because that plant will be online before we know it," Pinkoson said of the information requested.

Privately owned and operated by a subsidiary of American Renewables, which is a partnership of three energy companies, the 100-megawatt Gainesville plant is scheduled to open in late 2013. GRU has a 30-year contract in place to purchase all the power generated. The utility is expected to need only half that amount during the first 10 years of operation.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or

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