Bielarski: City commission’s “Net Zero by 2045” goal would triple GRU’s debt

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward reads a prepared statement to the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee on Feb. 23


BY ED BIELARSKI, Former GRU General Manager

As I tuned into the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) hearing on February 23, I was overcome with a wave of emotion. On a visceral level, I was sad to see Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), the erstwhile venerable utility, thrust into the state spotlight, represented by Mayor Harvey Ward and GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham, who looked more like deer in headlights than anything else. On an intellectual level, I thought it was about time that the City Commission was called on the carpet for their governance of the utility. You see, for the almost seven years of my tenure as the General Manager of GRU, I fought desperately with the City Commission to stop them from playing politics with GRU and get them to treat it like a business, not a piggybank. In return, they undermined me, threatened me with termination, and told me to avoid public discussions of the General Fund Transfer, until their fourth attempt to fire me succeeded.

My story starts in 2017 when I negotiated an agreement to terminate the Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan-era Biomass Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with GREC. The Biomass Buyout, as it became known, ended GRU’s absurd and onerous $2.1 billion 27-year obligation to a Boston developer, replacing it with $680 million of bonds, and granted GRU ownership of the biomass plant. The Biomass Buyout saved GRU approximately $1 billion, as an annual $75 million PPA payment was converted into a yearly $36 million bond payment. Along with reducing the total future pay-out, GRU gained control of the power plant, enabling it to operate more efficiently and avoiding the need to replace an aging gas plant. On the date of the closing of the deal, November 7, 2017, I thought the City Commission had seen the error of its ways and would return to running GRU as a low-cost utility. I found out I was wrong, when one month later, on December 7, they tried to terminate my employment: I was an obstacle to their continued use of GRU as their piggy bank.

Over the next 4 years, the City Commission forced GRU to remit more than $152 million to city coffers in General Fund Transfers–$68 million more than GRU earned. At the same time, the City Commission adopted a resolution to attain Net Zero carbon emissions by 2045, with no consideration of how they would fund it. A Utility Advisory Board (UAB) had been formed with appointees employing no fiscal responsibility as they pushed GRU towards restricting natural gas service and incentivizing electric vehicles (EV), EV chargers, and rooftop solar arrays. Despite having no available funds and reduced borrowing capacity, the City Commission ignored GRU’s fiscal dilemma and enabled the UAB’s push for unfunded climate action.

My staff and I conducted an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in 2019 with refinements in 2020, which calculated the need to spend $3.6 billion to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2045. This amount was conservative in that it didn’t consider where the 7,000 acres of land might need to be acquired and at what cost. The IRP also determined that a second biomass plant would be required to reach the Net Zero goal. When I submitted the plan to the City Commission, I heard nothing, simply crickets. No public meetings, no discussions, no discourse, no consequences. The Net Zero train just rolled on.  

My hope is that the JLAC and the Florida Legislature will keep pressure on the City Commission to do the right thing. They expect a plan. GRU customers deserve a plan. With over $1.7 billion of debt, GRU cannot afford unfunded mandates of at least $3.6 billion in the future for its Net Zero plan. It is a travesty that there is no plan to reduce the current $1.7 billion of debt, much less stop the future $3.6 billion.  

Unfortunately, the City Commission does not seem to have lost its appetite for bad deals. Before I was fired, I entered into a 50-megawatt solar deal with Origis Energy at a price below GRU’s cost of weighted cost of generation – $35 per megawatt at the time. The deal was wrecked by a 3-to-2 vote at the County Commission, and GRU was forced to hold Origis to the contract as they searched for a new location.

Under Mayor Ward’s leadership, rather than just walking away from the contract, the City Commission has approved an amendment to the original deal at a 33% increase in price and a 50% increase in volume (74.9 megawatts). Although the price is claimed to be a trade secret, I have contacts within the industry that disclosed the numbers to me. Frankly, this is unacceptable, particularly in the face of what needs to be done.

I recommend the current City Commission incorporate the following actions into their plan:

  • Greatly reduce the GFT until the GRU debt reaches a reasonable level.
  • Lay off many of the General Government (GG) employees added over the past five years to City Hall suites (almost 300 more than GRU added).
  • Walk away from the amended solar deal with Origis (there is an unanswered question as to whether GRU can handle 30 megawatts of rooftop solar and 74.9 megawatts of commercial solar with its current generation profile).
  • Consider selling the telecommunications business, along with an arrangement to exit the generation business. GRU can no longer support the losses from GRUCOM. Customers can no longer afford GRU power generation costs.

Ed Bielarski was General Manager of GRU until he was fired on January 27, 2022, in an effort led by now-Mayor Harvey Ward.

  • These idiots won’t stop until someone runs them out of town on a rail. Governor Desantis please help and take GRU away from the city and give it back to the rate payers before anymore stupidity continues.

  • Yep… its a miracle C of G pensions get paid every month… Hope they continue to be able to do so.

  • What about all the chief jobs that were added to GRU and why should the commissioners be able to double their own salary?

    • Solar is not anywhere near efficient as natural gas. The net zero is a joke. You cry about rates now..wait if you keep pushing that. Amazing how you cry about the planet but want to burn trees(BIOMASS). Which actually burn DIRTIER than clean coal and natural gas. What happened to saving the planet? Right now the most efficient plant GRU has is Kelly’s combined cycle plant. You want GRU to be citizen owned get the commission to stop using it to fund asinine projects like taking main st from 4 lanes to 2 and putting trees in the medians only to cut them down because they get too big.

  • Great points Ed. It’s a shame that you didn’t win the Mayoral election however I’m glad this has fallen on Harvey Ward to fix.
    I hope you sent this in to the Sun for the remaining few who subscribe, to read the true side of the story.
    Now if only our Governor will step in and unseat these remaining commissioners.

  • We’re getting close to the point where everyone involved with the deterioration of GRU is going to develop a mysterious case of amnesia.

  • Ed, how the citizens of Gainesville decided on Harvey Ward instead of you, I’ll never know. You were the clear, correct choice for mayor and the only person who can right this city’s ship. This ship is sinking and the passengers have voted to go down with it instead of opting for a readily available lifeboat – you. Well, I’m not, I have to be here for 18-24 months, then I’m OUTTA here. All I can say is thank you for your service to our city, obviously I wish it had turned out differently.

  • Excellent points Ed. The Gainesville community made a severely bad decision last November, but let’s hope that the Commission has enough commonsense to fix this. If they do not, their removal should be swift and permanent.

    The GFT should be stopped entirely until GRU is back in good financial shape. And then it should be limited by ordinance. Additionally, along with layoffs at the city, rescinding the Commissions recent ludicrous pay hike would go a long way to helping.

  • Ed: What’s the elephant in the room? ‘Net zero by 2045”. Where did that “Net zero by 2045” mandate come from? I never heard you or anyone question the origins of that mandate, not even Nathan….it was just accepted as something that had to be done with no questions.

    —-you got the part right about it was former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan who got us into this mess and you just inherited it. Hanrahan wanted to comply with Kyoto Protocol and the United States was not a signatory to that…Hanrahan implemented United Nations master plan here locally…

    When Kyoto Protocol was mentioned at CC meetings, the mayor shut the citizen down saying “your 3 minutes are up”…they had already made their minds up and it didn’t matter what anybody said. It was a done deal and hence the mess we are in now.

    The United Nations and the World Economic Forum (WEF) still want to control CO2 emissions to stop climate change…the devil is hiding behind the environment. We all want to save the planet, right? These are the same people who said “ the pandemic was the perfect cover to implement the great reset”.

    Their next plan is a cyber crash of the internet, electrical grid, communications, & transportation….then enact marshal law…then reset the system with new world order, one world government, global totalitarianism…

    “You will own nothing and be happy”. Be prepared.

    • That citizen which they never wanted him to speak about Kyoto protocol also mentioned an alternative to biomass…he said, “consider nuclear” which has no greenhouse emissions…nuclear wasn’t even an option, not even up for discussion…Hanrahan said, “my brother is a nuclear engineer and he would probably agree with you, but I don’t”… Hanrahan’s legacy is she bankrupted our city and ruined our utility by putting us in a bad deal …they had their minds made up and wouldn’t let the citizen speak…they should have listed to that citizen. Hind sight is 20-20.

    • The City Commission approved a Net Zero by 2045 Resolution in 2019. It is an actual document.

      • I just googled it…The “net 0 plan” is the GLOBAL plan to stop climate change…right out of the UN playbook. Our city and country have been infiltrated
        By Marxist globalists.

        • Ed Bielarski: this is what you should have said…”Net Zero is a United Nations plan and the GNV CC chose it as their plan…complying with it will triple GRU Debt.”

          • Ed tried to do a back door deal and sell GRU out to FPL. Remember that’s where Ed came from

  • The City no doubt has a spending problem. Interesting to see your take on GRUCom having losses, how are they losing money when the City has a spending problem and requires an absurd amount of GDT funds from the four revenue generating utilities? I’m sure if you look closer what is being represented what’s on GRUCom’s books, there may be a difference of opinion.

    If I’m not mistaken, GRUCom is not bound by City limits to provide service and can expand easily. Why can’t GRUCom follow the Ocala model? Ocala obviously believes in their all fiber product, and I’m sure GRUCom’s is way more robust.

    Thank you for the write up.

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