City Commission approves Solar PPA, repeals salary increase for commissioners, announces resignation of City Clerk
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Updated at 8:45 a.m. on 4/21 to fix vote on salary repeal.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At this afternoon’s Gainesville City Commission meeting, the commission voted unanimously to approve a Power Purchase Agreement with Origis, voted 6-1 to reverse the 90% raises adopted by the previous commission, and announced that City Clerk Omichele Gainey has submitted her resignation letter.
Eric Walters, Chief Sustainability Officer for Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), introduced the agenda item, explaining the history of the project. The original contract, approved in July 2020, required Origis to build a 50 MW solar facility and required GRU to buy all of the generated electricity at $31.52/MWh. However, a contract amendment was signed in March 2022 to extend all of the deadlines in the original contract after the Alachua County Commission refused to approve a special zoning exception for the solar facility.
The second amendment to the contract was approved in February after a new site was selected and then paused in March for six weeks after the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) questioned the redactions in the contract that hid the pricing from the public. That amendment increased the capacity of the facility from 50 MW to 74.9 MW and increased the price to $40.56/MWh.
Walters told the commission that GRU officials had spoken with eight of the 11 JLAC members, including the Chair and the Vice Chair, and four of the members of the local legislative delegation between March 17 and April 13; he said JLAC members had “no concerns” about the terms and conditions in the contract amendment.
Walters said the JLAC legal team reviewed the City of Gainesville’s stance on the redacted prices, which were just unredacted this week, and agreed that the City of Gainesville had properly refused to reveal the prices and that Origis was within their rights to redact the prices and other terms and conditions in the contract. Walters also said that Origis’ permission to unredact the contracts “does not set a precedent for future contracts for GRU.”
Staff recommended that the City Commission authorize the GRU General Manager to execute the amendment to the contract and also not encourage future solar development on the previously-denied parcel, due to its proximity to a historic, rural African American community and cemetery. Attorney Nathan Skop previously brokered an agreement between the African American community and Origis to find a new site for the project.
Walters told the commission that the price per megawatt-hour in the contract is “lower than our average projected cost of power going forward.” He elaborated, “When we look over our history, so going back to 2005, and when we look going out 10 years, the cost of this contract is lower than our average cost of power.” Ward followed up, “So it is less expensive for us to follow this contract than we expect it to be to not do that?” Walters replied, “Correct.”
Walters said that if the City Commission did not approve the contract amendment, it was likely that Origis would decide not to build the project. Commissioner Reina Saco asked, “And then if we tried to do any more solar projects, we’d have to start all over?” Walters said that would lead to at least a few years of delay, and Saco followed up, “To get renewable, clean energy for the City that is cheaper than our current, if we don’t approve today?” Walters replied, “Correct.”
In response to a question from Commissioner Bryan Eastman about the price, Walters said, “Right now, natural gas prices are low. By the time we look at 2025, they’re projected to be [higher than the current price] and projected to increase from there. So based on the projections, this is still going to be below our average cost of power.”
Mayor Harvey Ward said, “I love that this is solar, I love that it is renewable energy, but that should not drive our decision. The fact that it is renewable should not be the driver, I don’t believe, for this. What should drive the decision… is not so much how much I want to see us have solar be part of our mix but the fact that we should let the math drive the decision. And it looks like… if we choose to do this, we are not listening to the math, and that is not how we should proceed.”
Ward thanked “everyone who has been involved in this… I want to thank folks from Origis, I want to thank the neighbors who live near the property for getting to a better place with this,… representation by Mr. Skop and his addition of items to this measure, Mr. Bielarski’s work on it, our current General Manager, all the team, Mr. Walters, the financial team at GRU… I appreciate the effort on everyone’s part.”
Saco made a motion to approve the staff’s recommendation, and the vote in favor of the motion was unanimous.
Jason Thomas, Senior Director, Project Development at Origis Energy for the Sand Bluff Solar Project in Alachua County told Alachua Chronicle, “Today the Gainesville City Commission voted to move the city’s first large-scale solar and storage project forward. It is a vote for carbon-free energy generation. It is a vote for price stability and lower energy generation costs. This vote is a vote for GRU ratepayers. Origis is committed to being a good partner with each and every community where we work, including here in Alachua County and the City of Gainesville. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the City of Gainesville, GRU, and the community to bring clean energy and lower generation costs to ratepayers.”
With little discussion, the commission also adopted an ordinance that would repeal an ordinance passed on December 15, 2022, that would have nearly doubled their salaries in January 2024. Saco and Willits dissented in the 5-2 vote.
City Clerk resigning
During member comment, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said that commissioners had just received a resignation letter from City Clerk Omichele Gainey. She said, “I want to commend the Clerk for the excellent job she has done since January 2018.” Ward said he was sorry to see her leave, but “life is about change.”
Gainey previously resigned in September 2021 and then rescinded her resignation nine days later. Gainey’s resignation is effective June 30, although she wrote that she is willing to work as a consultant for 90 days after that date.
Gainey’s resignation letter said, “In September of 2021, I reached the place where I find myself now, ready to end my time as Gainesville’s first African American City Clerk. Unknown to me at the time, there were several other departures taking place that weighed heavily on my decision to rescind my resignation and remain to provide stability within the city’s leadership team. During the last two years, I’ve been able to yield my insight and expertise to the fine individuals at the reins today and I am confident they will continue to provide stable leadership to the city’s workforce.”
Gainey never should have been screened in as clerk to begin with because she never had the qualifications to be in the pool of candidates! But of course the mayor and commission put on blindfolds so they could hire an ignorant puppet. She is just as slimy as the commission she supported and the city is better off without her. Now if the commission would only follow suit…
F***ing ridiculous get ready to pay more for your GRU rates i see another bio plant disaster coming
Glad to see Gainey finally gone, after she was hired through nepotism after being unqualified to even apply. GRU ratepayers are going to continue getting shafted, along with all citizens of Gainesville.
Since the clown commission is unwilling, (incapable?), of distinguishing genders, they’re going to stick it in everyone.
Here’s a question, since Harvey Two-Face falls into that mold, how does he know he has a daughter? Isn’t “daughter” feminine in context? That is his go-to excuse.
Someone should file suit immediately for voting in this solar contract right before they are set to lose control of its governance. All of that power is unneeded and back up power will have to be kept ready or spinning because solar is so unreliable at any given time. A huge waste pure and simple just to say they are buying green and to saddle rate payers at GRU since they can stick a finger in Clemson’s eye. The state should make city hall pay for every payment with their own funds after they lose GRU! Millions more will be wasted on this.
I really wish all city officials (and Alachua County as well) would stop referring to everyone as “neighbors”. It’s very disingenuous and was started by the disgraced former city manager Lee Feldman.
Mainstreet reported that both Saco and Willits opposed the Salary repeal again–which is accurate? 🤔
You’re right, I wrote it down wrong. Fixed.
I believe that is true
Good grief Governor, please put a stop to this feckless nonsense and dissolve this entire commission. Along with recent “do nothing “ positions collecting unbelievable salaries. Yep, you know who you are! Pathetic!
It is only just a little amazing that the mayor will admit the solar project is a bad deal . . . and then vote for it anyway.
I can’t believe anyone would believe anything that comes out of his mouth he also said he would like the transfer from GRU to be below 10 million just one of many lies he as said
Does the solar contract say who pays for cleaning the solar panels? If not, the contractor could use that fee as an open ended surcharge to maintain their exorbitant profits over decades.
Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. With the state looking to take over GRU due to costs you would think they might postpone this purchase. Wow.
The commissioners obviously don’t have the GRU customers best interests in mind….they’re too busy worshiping their mother earth.
As a guy who loves to hunt and fish I have to tell you that the environment is a big deal. That being said…it’s a balance…and I agree with you…GRU is not customer based…and either is the city.
There are wants and needs in life.
Enough woke crap!! Stop spending MY money 💰!!!
The price of solar soared along with everything else after the pandemic. GRU already has enough capacity and doesn’t need to pay top dollar for power they don’t need. There’s no good reason not to wait until the prices come back down.
Once again the City Commission proves that they can’t be allowed to keep control over GRU and that the only hope of saving GRU is for the state to appoint an independent board.
If we have a hurricane and its overcast for a week, Do we all crank up our Diesel home generators so we can power our homes and charge these stupid electric cars.
This is another decision made by people who live in a very small box just like the ones who approved the over rated and over priced wood burning plant. Hopefully the state will take GRU away from the commission.
If it’s going to cost $40.56 per MWh you can bet the customers who “supposedly” own GRU will see their cost be an additional 1 – 5% for an assortment of fees. Power generation, distribution and of course the backdoor deals to those who spearheaded the effort are but a few likely excuses.
Given the history of the city commission, they will also in future years increase the costs due to inflation, (read: fiscal incompetence). What should be in the contract is the costs will not increase for a period of 100 years.
Last time I looked, the sunshine today was the same as it was yesterday and the only thing that will prevent it from being the same tomorrow is the good Lord Himself.
According to the DOE, the price of solar is expected to fail significantly in the next few years, so naturally the City Commission is in a big rush to lock in the price at top dollar ($40.56 per MWh) for the next 20 years.
“By 2035, solar could cost as little as $22 per megawatt-hour on average. That’s down from a 2020 average of $34 per MWh. It is also close to what the Energy Department is targeting for solar in 2030 — $20 per MWh, under a goal declared last year.”
Gainey demonstrated to me that she is rude and unapologetically non-responsive to FOIA and other reasonable requests within her duty to provide..
The city is in a “rush” to conclude a deal on which much energy has been expended, and according their adviser in GRU and without exception from the JLAC, will go away if not closed and at prices which will rise in the future. The peanut gallery here hates Gainesville and of course declares it all lies, but let the city and it’s voters take responsibility – they own it, not Chuckie, Keithie, and Ronnie.
🤣🤣🤣 You’re as big a joke as those you continue to support. Are you just naive or just playing dumb?
Many know the majority of Gainesville voters are.
Wow, compelling argument there Can’t. I’ll have to consider it, but 1st reaction is let the citizens suffer the odious consequences you hope for. It’s their utility and their elected leaders.
Hey, by the way, keep us posted on how Ron is doing running Disney. He was really successful in his previous business, selling chocolate bars for his high school baseball team. I can see why you think he’ll do good running GRU.
They follow the wishes of those who elected them pretty well don’t they? Completely ignored their objections to pay raises and raising utility rates.
I’ll make sure I pass on your best of luck to DeSantis. He’s obviously doing much better running the state than the clowns you support are at running the city.
What ever Harvey’s feeding you, you may want to decline that 2nd helping.
So, the G’ville City Commission is trying to take over UF and The Swamp while doing nothing about insurance, flooding, low teachers pay, high numbers without health insurance, rising costs to live in Florida, and shoving crap down the throat of Floridians that even Republicans don’t want (abortion restrictions and gun laws). I didn’t know that.
They’re trying to get the state to force UF to purchase electricity from GRU.
Been hammering too many of those nails with your noggin? I thought you were in construction? You should know the governor can’t control the weather and he doesn’t set insurance rates. On the other hand, those you suck up to set local taxes and special assessments. The local school board administers the salaries of administrators and the state has set the base starting salaries for teachers. You may want to lower some of your construction wages to help with those rising costs of Florida living as well.
If you don’t realize that you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed are you?
If that’s the case then let EVERY GRU customer vote on the solar farm, and not seven idiots, who are on the city council
We have a representative democracy in America, not direct. Did you just get here?
No I don’t have representation I am part of the 40% stuck with GRU that lives outside of the city
Maybe you missed this part of my comment.
“the Energy Department is targeting for solar in 2030 — $20 per MWh.”
Any sensible business owner would walk away from this deal and wait a few more years. Especially, if it’s for something we don’t need. The only reason for finalizing this deal now is because the City Commission knows they will no longer control GRU soon and that it very unlikely that the new board would approve of this agreement.
BTW: Who is paying to build the transmission lines and equipment that will be needed to send this power to Gainesville?
Link? GRU’s consultant said otherwise and the JLAC has not objected.
GRU Consultants get paid to tell them what they want to hear. Supposedly, JLAC looked at the contract and from a legal POV may or may not have said it was ok. From a legal POV the GREC PPA was ok too. That had nothing to do with whether or not it was a good deal or a good idea or if this is the right time or if there is even a need.