Ray Washington: It's time for real negotiation on behalf of ratepayers
Published: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 11:23 a.m.
The City of Gainesville's belated recognition of a serious contract violation by the out-of-state and overseas investors operating under the rubric of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center opens the door for renegotiation of the biomass contract. That contract, in its current form, will result in Gainesville Regional Utilities paying more than twice the market rate for electricity unless the contract is renegotiated in favor of GRU ratepayers.
But the Gainesville Sun's distorted and information-deficient editorial (“After the griping,” Dec. 26) may have the unfortunate effect of ensuring that Gainesville City Commissioners do not make a real effort to actually achieve “the best deal” for GRU ratepayers, as advocated by The Sun.
The Sun's characterization of citizen efforts to encourage effective renegotiation of the GRU-GREC contract as “griping” or “I told you so” exercises is insulting to these citizens and to readers of The Sun, and flat out wrong. Over the last few months, citizen efforts have been aimed at encouraging renegotiation of the GRU-GREC contract, in compliance with the Sunshine Law and focusing on the public interest and not the interests of GREC's private investors. (See “The Great New Biomass Debate,” Aug. 10)
The City Commission has now authorized GRU General Manager Robert Hunzinger “to negotiate with GREC a potential commercial resolution” of GREC's contract violation. But the commission has failed to articulate a single guideline or goal, except that Hunzinger should be sure that the negotiations are “mutually agreeable” to GREC and to Hunzinger.
Instead of insulting those citizens who have been working to ensure to the City Commission does accomplish the goal The Sun claims it wants to see accomplished, The Sun should be encouraging members of the City Commission to exercise their fiduciary obligation to ratepayers by providing the level of direction that a $3 to $4 billion contract renegotiation deserves.
And if most commissioners continue to resist this responsibility, The Sun should encourage members of the City Commission to authorize negotiation – or at least oversight of the renegotiation process -- by City Commissioner Todd Chase.
Chase has repeatedly offered to take on this responsibility, and he is uniquely qualified to do so -- by dint of his education (he has an MBA degree from Harvard), his experience (he is a business executive with experience renegotiating high stakes contracts), his focus (he has repeatedly told his fellow commissioners that he considers reducing the negative economic consequences flowing from the GRU-GREC contract to be the most important contribution he could make during his term on the commission), his knowledge of the subject (he has stated that he has spent hundreds of hours over the last year-and-a-half devoted to in-depth study and consultation regarding the utility industry in general and GRU in particular) and his commitment to putting the public welfare of Gainesville citizens and ratepayers over those of private investors (he is the only commissioner who has repeatedly expressed concern that the GRU-GREC contract likely will have disastrous economic consequences, for the poorest ratepayers who pay a disproportionate amount of their income for electricity, and for businesses, who even before GRU's annual $103 million payments to GREC begin already pay among the highest electric rates in the state and nation).
Whether the majority of the members of the Gainesville City Commission choose to exercise their oversight responsibilities remains to be seen. If they allow this opportunity to pass them by, they will have provided the strongest evidence yet that the time has come to give those responsibilities to another body.
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