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City commission approves another look at broadband and new solar PPA

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

After the COVID discussion in the Gainesville City Commission’s meeting on July 16, they moved on to a broadband discussion. The discussion was requested by Commission Adrian Hayes-Santos, who said the COVID pandemic has “brought to light, even more, the broadband… issues we have in our community.” He said children now need the internet for distance learning, and many people are working from home. He said some people have had to move or get a different job because of inadequate broadband service at their homes. “We actually made the national news last month… with issues with broadband and how Cox is slowing down the speeds in certain neighborhoods.” Hayes-Santos mentioned that Nationwide Insurance has closed its building in Gainesville to have its employees work from home: “The future now is working from home.” 

The City did a broadband feasibility study last summer, but the general conclusion was that it would be very expensive to move forward; Hayes-Santos proposed taking another look at it and, if necessary, using the already-budgeted funds to “see how we could make a city-wide broadband project more feasible.”

Mayor Lauren Poe said it was important to work with “other stakeholders” on the issue: “I think our lens has changed, quite dramatically, since we last took a pass at it. But I want to put an exclamation point on the Nationwide issue. That’s a big loss, but it’s not just a Gainesville thing. Nationwide is closing down all of its brick-and-mortar locations across the country, except for five hubs… Communities that are able to offer the ability to work from home… are going to be more competitive. And this is great news for a lot of people, because now they really do have mobility choice, and if Gainesville has a world-class educational system, world-class parks, and natural environment… Another metric employers and employees are looking for is how aggressively our community is addressing issues of racial equity and economic disparity… I am supportive of moving forward with this.”

Commissioner Gail Johnson was concerned about how the initiative will be funded: “My concern has always been about GRU shouldering additional debt for this, and if we’re looking at sharing the cost [with the County or school board] or if there are different funding mechanisms that could be available from the state because of COVID-19, these are all things I’m interested in exploring… How are we going to pay for this?”

Commissioner Harvey Ward said, “GRUCom currently exists at GRU. It doesn’t have to exist at GRU. It could exist within General Government. I’m not advocating that today, to be clear, but it could move to General Government… Nobody freak out, I’m not advocating that today, but it’s something we should have a discussion about. The partnerships we should look to are much more extensive today than they were a year ago. We absolutely should partner with Gainesville Housing Authority; we should be partnering with Alachua County Schools, certainly… we should include private schools in the discussion; we should include all the charter schools in the discussion; Alachua County government should be included; the Library System; Santa Fe College; UF; State of Florida…; VA; the other municipalities… they’re starved for good internet.”

Hayes-Santos moved to give direction to the City Manager to take a look at the broadband feasibility study to see how a city-wide broadband project could be more feasible and come back to the commission with an analysis. Part of that is looking at partnerships with the County, other municipalities in the county, the School Board, the Library System, the University of Florida, Santa Fe, the Housing Authority, and the State of Florida. 

Poe said, “The ultimate goal is making sure every one of our neighbors has access to both affordable and high-quality broadband. How we get there is the question, but it’s really ultimately an equity issue, and I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn for the other commissioners: we believe that every person has the right to high-quality and affordable broadband service.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Solar PPA

The commission then discussed a proposed Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for 50 MW of solar power. The Utility Advisory Board recommended approval of the project, in spite of GRU’s refusal to answer their questions about the price per megawatt, which the vendor claims is proprietary information. 

The project is supposed to be complete by December 2022 and will take the next step toward the city commission’s goal of 100% renewable power by 2045. GRU currently has 26 MW of solar in its portfolio, split between the feed-in tariff and the solar net-metering. GRU also counts the 103 MW biomass plant as a renewable power source.

The system will include a battery capable of discharging 12 MW and storing 24 MWh of energy (2 hours’ worth) to smooth out the intermittency of solar. This battery will be one of the largest batteries in Florida. The solar array will be located south of the Parker Road Substation. GRU said, “We expect no upward rate pressure as a result of this pricing.”

During public comment, Louis Lee said he was uncomfortable with approving the project without site control (ownership of the property). Nathan Skop said the commission should not approve a contract that was provided to the public with heavy redactions, including the cost per megawatt of the power. 

Without further discussion, the commission voted unanimously to approve the contract. Poe said, “Congratulations, Gainesville and GRU customers, you just added 50 megawatts of solar, increasing our total ability to provide renewable energy to just shy of 185 megawatts, once this gets built out. This should be a day to celebrate.”

  • As for broadband, I don’t know…why have a brick
    And mortar University of Florida or Santa Fe if people will take the classes online and get their degree online?

    Gainesville is still ultimately a college town, right?
    Why send your kids to Gainesville and rent an apartment
    And spend money in the local economy if you don’t need
    Brick & mortar schools?

    I really don’t trust anything our city does when it comes
    To Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) anymore…
    They keep the decision making information away from
    The public to see (re: biomass redacted contract).we have no idea what we will be paying
    For things in the future and it seems it always turns into
    A bad deal for ratepayers and the taxpayer.

    As for the the solar PPA, we can’t see what rates we
    Will be paying for the electricity because the rates get
    Redacted…they say it’s “proprietary” and therefore cannot
    Be reviewed by the public or other utility experts…
    There’s no government in the sunshine when it comes to
    Looking at the contracts.

    Anything that government does seems to be more
    Expensive too…I would rather have local government
    Focus on essential services like police, fire, parks, &
    Roads. It probably would be a lot cheaper if we bought
    Our electric power wholesale from other utilities who
    Specialize in electrical generation like FPL or Duke Energy,
    Etc…same thing with broadband, AT&T or Cox can provide
    It cheaper and are regulated by the public service commission (PSC).

    The city keeps making things more expensive to live
    Here with higher property taxes and higher rents…
    We can’t be shutting down the local economy for the
    Seasonal flu. Everything the city does has unintended
    Consequences… increased regulation & fees on small
    Landlords will mean increased rents…what does that
    Mean for your affordable housing? It means that rents will go up.

    • You hit it on the head, that’s a mouthful but true. If or government could focus on essential services and not their flavor of the month they keep starting over and over again. First it’s this and then it’s that but always something that we DO NOT NEED. This is more true when they hide the prices in they’re contract.Has to be a reason they hide it from us right? I believe they are crooked and that’s why they hid the information they know we will get mad about.They lie. Makes me not believe what else they say and especially what haven’t told us.

  • LMAO! Hayes Santos said Covid has, “brought to light, even more, the broadband… issues we have in our community.” Did he wake up yesterday? Did someone hit him with the “stupid stick” too many times? These aren’t issues. Issues are high property taxes, high utility rates, lack of affordable housing. Those are issues. He goes on to say some people have had to move or get a different job because of inadequate broadband service at their homes. “EARTH TO HAYES SANTOS”…THEY ARE LEAVING BECAUSE OF THE HIGH TAXES AND UTILITY RATES!! Another idiotic statement from a city commissioner.
    King Poe chimes in with his “work with other stakeholders.” What are the residents of Gainesville? We’re not all kissing his arse and getting kickbacks from every bad financial decision these knuckleheads make. He doesn’t see through lenses, he looks with blinders. He can only see in one direction – his. He then points out Nationwide leaving…with an emphasis on the huge loss. They aren’t leaving because of lack of internet capabilities, they are leaving because of the financial strain our local government exerts on THEIR business. Maybe Poe actually sees things through welder’s glasses… he’s blind. He then chooses to divert the attention from the problems at hand, typical Leftist move, and talk about the presence of world class education, world class parks, and natural environment. The world class education is in NO WAY A BYPRODUCT OF ANYTHING THE CITY OF GAINESVILLE HAS DONE. There isn’t anything natural along 13th St or University Ave. I’m not even going to address the lack of racial equity because that is a train all of these leaders have just recently decided to get on.
    Johnson still selling snake oil. Al talk about what who’s going to pay for things. Will she have to travel to the disenfranchised members of the black community and tell them “I’m sorry, I need to raise your utility rates…again.”
    Harvey “Two Face” Ward sees $$$$ at the end of this deal. Doesn’t want the city to control it right now, (Cost to the city ring a bell?), but wouldn’t rule out the city taking over. Typical way of thinking, you pay for it and I’ll rape the people…I mean reap the profits.
    Wow! Isn’t it time for a change? These are the types of discussions that occur when the “insane are put in charge of the asylum.”
    Probably a better analogy would be the “fox having the keys to the henhouse.”

  • You may be sorry to hear that our elected leaders are not tone deaf but brain dead. As business after business leaves town they pile on even more required payments and contracts.They will never learn and have already cost us over a billion with a capital B on Biomass and now two more even with contracts that have elements blocked out. They continue to read events backwards. The company leaving and not picking your town to stay is not a plus and it wasn’t because of no free internet.Those businesses could easily afford already available high speed internet. Building out a billion dollar joke of a system isn’t going to help anything except to increase the reasons to leave, high taxes and utility rates. Congratulating citizens over signing a long term contract for electricity they don’t know the price of is shows they have just received their award, their accomplishment, their destiny. Too bad they’ve tied us to many years of payments for something we don’t need but they will celebrate on their resume for many years, at a cost that we can’t afford. All in it for themselves.

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