Tom Bussing: It's not griping to demand accountability from the city


Published: Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 9:12 p.m.

On Dec. 26, The Sun published an editorial with the headline “After the griping,” in which it was suggested that we all shut up about the impending biomass financial disaster.

I was surprised to learn that we should abandon accountability of our city commissioners for a 30-year debacle that is unfolding.

The Gainesville Sun wants us to quit “griping” about it.

It's easy to see whose side The Sun is on. In that whole editorial, it is never mentioned that the contract has apparently been violated by the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, the biomass company.

GREC has wheeled and dealed shares in its lucrative contract, without offering GRU a chance to buy in. A mediation hearing on the issue is coming up. The contract could be voided.

We might, by habit, believe that our city commissioners will go to work for the citizens in negotiating the issue, but the fact is, they still don't seem to get it.

The city has a real chance to modify the terms of the contract, if it is to continue, and prevent some of the pain that is about to hit our community when the plant kicks in.

But, sadly, it looks like another kissy-face negotiation with GREC is coming up, to be frank. The commissioners have so much love for this project.

You see, I have been a witness, up close, to the whole process. I witnessed our city commissioners parade repeatedly to Tallahassee, as a group, to brazenly put on a political show before the Florida Public Service Commission, and also the governor and Cabinet, to press for approval of this disaster.

Here's a case in point. The Sun propagates the fiction that the biomass plant was financially viable until an unexpected plunge in natural gas prices changed everything.

But three years ago, on Dec. 16, 2009, I was testifying before the PSC on exactly that.

I testified that “GRU's projection of future natural gas prices is flawed. Shale gas has drastically altered projections about price and supply of natural gas in this country … (e)xpanding estimates of recoverable supplies … You should be sure to ask in this hearing why has GRU not included this new information on shale gas in their model.”

I submitted documentation of these facts.

The plant was still only a proposal at that time.

GRU was there, pushing their agenda in the hearings. They were put on notice of these facts, way back then.

But GRU continued to present their fossilized data about fictitious, future high natural gas prices. The price had already peaked, at a price of $13 per million metric British thermal units in the summer of 2008, and by 2009 the price was under $4 (where it remains today).

The plant's financial underpinnings were dead ducks already, as the PSC hearings began in December 2009.

GRU and GREC proceeded to block citizens from introducing further evidence of the financial disaster, while they continued to pile on their political “evidence.”

Our city commissioners were there, but too busy politicking to examine the record and act for the public interest. They had a secret contract to protect from the public.

And now The Gainesville Sun wants us to quit “griping.”

Add this: Since those PSC hearings there have been numerous financial giveaways to GREC by the city, generally associated with the various regulatory hearings.

These giveaways have fattened the contract by hundreds of millions of dollars. Hundreds of millions of dollars in deal-sweeteners. Most were never even voted on by the commission.

The public should be informed of these huge post-contract financial transfers, which have been pretty much ignored by The Gainesville Sun.

You know, I will be 95 years old when the biomass contract runs out in 2043. If I am still around, you can expect to hear from me.

This biomass affair exposes a disconnect and a dishonesty permeating our city government.

And I do not have confidence that the city commissioners are going to act for the public interest in the upcoming “negotiation” with GREC.

Tom Bussing served as mayor of Gainesville from 2001 to 2004.

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