City commission delays approval of Solar PPA for six weeks

Commissioner Bryan Eastman makes the motion to delay approval of the amended contract


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At yesterday’s Gainesville City Commission Regular Meeting, the commission voted to delay execution of the Origis Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for six weeks.

Eric Walters, Chief Sustainability Officer for Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), told commissioners that the price in the contract–which he said he could not disclose but said it is under $45/MWh–is “much lower” than GRU’s average cost to produce power in the 2022 fiscal year (Alachua Chronicle’s request for the average cost of production last year for each generating facility has not yet been fulfilled). Walters also said that GRU hired an attorney from Bryant Miller Olive that specializes in PPAs to assist GRU with creating the PPA and that the law firm protected GRU’s legal and commercial interests. Walters said that solar PPAs are common, unlike the biomass PPA that was so expensive that GRU decided to purchase the plant in an effort to decrease the cost over the lifetime of the contract.

Walters said the prices in the PPA are redacted because solar providers compete “fiercely” over price and terms, and if they publish their prices, it can compromise their chances for future business. Thus, the providers claim their pricing and terms as confidential trade secrets. Walters said that under Florida Statutes, it is a third-degree felony for GRU to release information that was claimed as a confidential trade secret. However, he said that the annual contract value will be less than $9 million.

Walters reiterated that GRU staff still recommend moving forward with the contract, “and that’s independent of the 2045 [NetZero] Resolution.” However, staff added a recommendation that the commission allow staff to engage in additional discussions with concerned stakeholders, including members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC), and return with the results of those discussions and a recommendation by April 20. 

During commission discussion, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she was not comfortable moving forward with the contract, “particularly not at this time, with where we are.”

During public comment, Angela Casteel asked about the projected $850 million in added debt that was discussed at the JLAC meeting if the utility decided to build new plants to move to renewable power generation (in fact, a State of the Utility presentation in 2021 projected that GRU’s debt service will increase by $4.85 billion by 2065 if the City moves forward with its goal of 100% renewable energy generation by 2045). In response, Mayor Harvey Ward said there are no capital costs involved with the solar PPA, and he asked GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham to confirm that. Cunningham said, “At the site, there is no capital cost; there are some transmission that we’re working on, but there is no at-site up-front capital cost.”

Ward added, “There is imputed debt because we’re agreeing to purchase power from them. We’re going to purchase megawatts from somebody, or we won’t turn the lights on. We have to purchase it from someone. This says we’ll purchase from them a certain amount. We have to purchase power from somebody. We either have to buy fuel to make it ourselves, or we purchase it from them.”

Former GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski told Alachua Chronicle today that GRU opts to purchase power from cheaper sources for economic reasons, but the system has the capacity to provide power to customers without needing to purchase power.

Chestnut made a motion “to direct the General Manager of the utility not to execute the Origis contract at this time,” but the motion failed for lack of a second.

Commissioner Bryan Eastman made a motion to accept the staff recommendation, which would bring the contract back to the commission by April 20, following additional discussions. Commissioner Reina Saco seconded the motion.

Commissioner Ed Book said he supported the motion because “once it comes back on April 20, we can at that time say, ‘We don’t like it, it’s not acceptable, stakeholders weren’t for it,’ and we could still actually decide at that time, so it’s a palatable motion to me.”

Eastman said that critics of the biomass plant have complained that the city commission did not listen to experts “and take the financial reality of what those experts were telling us very seriously, instead going for ideological goals, and I believe that what I heard from staff here today is exactly that, and by moving forward with this, we are listening to our staff, who are telling us this is the cheapest, most financially sustainable way to move forward.”

Eastman’s motion was unanimously approved.

  • Mayor Harv’s comment is so unrefined, so devoid of any real intellect, it’s appalling. The decision to enter into a 75 megawatt PPA is so much more than well we have to either generate ourselves or buy it, so let’s go solar. Solar is unreliable and when the electric grid is using it for load, it must have resources dedicated to come on line when it’s gone. NERC won’t allow us to consider it an emergency when solar power is lost. There is a complicated algorithm that GRU staff uses to determine how, when and how much additional load is feathered thru the system. There is a limit to the Solar that a power grid can handle. When I was the GM, we used an additional 50 megawatts as the upper limit from which we could always add more.

    Well, it seems that the City Commission is asking GRU to “Jump the shark tank,” by going big. Not sure if that’s a risk that GRU ought to be taking considering that the price is only higher than its generation costs during a period of high natural gas prices. That should sound familiar to all you folks who heard the justification for the Biomass deal. That and let’s get into a bigger deal. Hmmmm.

    • Agree with former GM EB. When Eastman said: “ I believe that what I heard from staff here today is exactly that” , he was referring to the GREC FIASCO where they didn’t listen to “experts”. You don’t have “experts” there now, no staff are independent/non-conflicted experts in this area. Sure the salespeople are, but they are waiting on their huge commission for a 20 year max sale!!! There is currently no additional generating capacity needed, as stated by EB. You are attempting to swap an already in-house generation for an external 20-yr contract, that must have minimum amounts? (Not mentioned at meeting!) All this at the same time you were just told to go big on cuts by state officials, not add more mandatory bills for 20 years to assist in “climate change”. Signing this will most certainly bring removal of mayor, city manager and some commissioners 01 Oct 23. Have at it! Maybe this also complies with Kyoto Protocol as did GREC!

  • I remember them telling us what a good idea the bio mass plant was and how much we would save look where we are right now. So please go ahead with the deal it will be the only way to get republicans on the city council because when the governor removes you guess who he will appoint and just maybe they will be in office long enough to turn gainesville around

    • Voting for the inbred-hillbilly-looking mayoral candidate hasn’t worked out too good for the community in more than one instance recently (female and male). Trust your common sense, people. It’s not “ableist” to choose someone who looks normal and competent instead of some mad scientist’s failed breeding experiment.

  • You liberal idiots fell for the lies and the thievery…again. You keep voting for these idiots who do everything in their best interests rather than the public’s best interests. It amazes me just how gullible you people are.

    By the way, I heard that Wacko Saco & Willets the Weasel were the two who voted not to rescind their salaries. She’s the same person who took a leave of absence, probably for excessive body pains or something others have to work through to get paid. I guess she hasn’t had enough of giving the 🖕 to the citizens of Gainesville yet.

    You rank right down there with those people who believe Trump won the election.

    • She’s lucky she hasn’t been disbarred already. I saw a video clip of her on TV 20, crying that she’s only going to work 20 hours a week if she’s only getting paid half time now. She made PLANS!! (Boo hoo.) Based on the workshop meeting I saw this week, Willits seems mentally deficient. They’re both whiny woke children.

      • With that rationale she should return the salary for not working 6 weeks. She’ll never do that, she’s a hypoCRAT.

      • I totally agree with you about the whiny woke children. I saw enough from Willits yesterday. But Her… goodness!

  • The Gainesville City Commission and GRU Staff are spin masters. They know nothing about an efficient well run utility producing electricity that is affordable. The State is right , cease and desist for the good of the people.

  • The sustainability position at GRU can be eliminated to save money….anything to do with UN and climate change only increases our expenses & debt. We need reliable & affordable electric…We should get a thorium reactor and power GNV
    Like how air craft carriers and nuclear submarines do…harnessing the atom has zero emissions and is the future If done safety….radioactive waste is recyclable too…

  • A classic case of Gainesville City Commission AGAIN wanting to play on the world stage, envisioning themselves members of the international community complying with the Paris Climate Accord and Kyoto Protocol nonsense. Meanwhile they are using your taxes, GRU rates, fire fees, and credit to comply as THEY see fit. The reality is you are a small city commission that is driving your city to bankruptcy and continued embarrassment. You should be publicly fired by the state, never allowing any of you In public office again the rest of your life. If you beg, we might let you be dog catcher.

  • Going “100% renewable” means abandoning base power generation. Which means buying on the market, something GRU was NOT founded on, more akin to Clay Coop.
    So since this is the intent of the city policy leaders, why are they so averse to merging with Clay?
    Note however being a non-producer means we won’t attract a major new industrial employer — and major private taxpaying company here. That means UF could still keep down worker wages, and the city will remain a poor tax base, inequitable community. Despite all the speeches and resolutions to the contrary.

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