Citizens group encouraging energy efficiencies before biomass impact
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.
With higher Gainesville Regional Utilities rates looming in late 2013 after the biomass plant goes online, an energy-centric citizens group is promoting ways that residents and businesses can cushion their bank accounts from the impact.
After taking a break during the Alachua County Commission elections and subsequent holiday season, Alachua Clean Energy (ACE) is prepping for a renewed effort to garner the county's support for local initiatives to make energy-efficiency improvements more affordable.
ACE was formed in mid-2011 by Michael Collins, Don Davis and Kevin Veach, all of whom have some professional experience in the energy industry. Their recent hiatus gave them time to assess the post-election changes to the commission, which added Commissioners Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson and Charles "Chuck" Chestnut IV to the dais, said Collins, who works in sales and as a market analyst for Power Production Management, an energy company focused on solar power. ACE's goal is to spearhead the effort to provide financially manageable ways for people to make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient.
With the biomass plant scheduled to go online in the latter half of 2013, Collins said he is hopeful the commission will prioritize the close evaluation of ACE's energy-efficiency proposals.
"If your citizens are about to see a large increase in their rates, it seems imperative to at least seriously look at it and not keep it as an issue that they're putting their ear to but not deeply looking into," he said.
The Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, programs for commercial and residential sites inspired ACE's formation by offering a model for financing energy-efficiency efforts on an individual level. Property owners can finance an energy-efficiency improvement, such as a solar panel system, with financing through their local government that they later repay through a property tax assessment.
Florida allows PACE for commercial properties but not for residential ones.
Commissioner Mike Byerly said the PACE concept is excellent, but the county can't take action until the state changes the policy to permit its use for residential buildings. Lobbying the state is the most it can do under these circumstances.
Collins insisted it is the right time to consider PACE-type tactics locally.
Everyone wants to do something about the local biomass issue, and this is an alternative that could help lower their GRU bills despite the rate increase by cutting down their energy usage, he said.
"You can talk all day long about what the city did wrong or right, or what the biomass plant's doing wrong or right because, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter," he said.
The deal is done, but Collins said he hopes the commission and other residents will realize that plans like PACE are tools they can use to mitigate the plant's financial impact.
"It's a way for people to take energy into their own hands," he said.
Commissioner Susan Baird doesn't support implementing PACE or a similar program in which the county offers a loan to residents and businesses that is repaid long term, given the county's budget limitations. The county has major issues of its own, including a $550 million countywide backlog in road repairs, to fund.
"I think what probably bothers me the most is that this is a self-inflicted wound from the city," she said. "We don't have any more money to start solving all the problems created by bad decisions."
This community is invested in its energy future, and ACE is another part of that ongoing conversation, said Sean McLendon, the county's sustainability program manager.
The sustainability office has helped ACE convene meetings and procure speakers, he said.
"Any initiatives in this community that deal with energy require citizen input," McLendon said. "ACE is one of those critical vehicles."
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or email@example.com.