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City leadership has bad track record on utility decisions

OPINION

BY JEN HALL

Although the idle, rarely-used Austin Energy Nacogdoches biomass plant was a notable failure that preceded the City of Gainesville’s DHR plant, Austin Energy’s contract payments under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for 100 MW of power for 20 years were spread among their nearly one million residents. However, instead of learning from Austin’s mistake, the City of Gainesville doubled down and contracted with the same business people for 102 MW for 30 years, with payments supported by a much lower 130,000 residents.

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Austin Energy has since bought the plant and contract for $460 million, freeing it from the contract payments and financing the debt to be complete within the same 20-year period covered by the PPA. Admitting their mistake, an Austin Energy official stated, “We welcome anything Austin can do to reduce the losses from this bungled foray into biomass power generation, though buying the troubled plant is a bitter pill to swallow.”

Meanwhile, the City of Gainesville residents paid $750 million for its massive mistake, having to restart the 30-year clock with new debt payments. However, instead of admitting their earlier mistake, City Commissioners still proclaim victory and success at owning one of the few “renewable” biomass plants, despite the massive cost to its citizens (both in rates and in CO2 emissions). They also ignore scientists’ opinions stating that biomass pollution is similar to that of coal; few, if any, biomass plants are being built today. 

Even former President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan was lukewarm on, and did not endorse, biomass as green energy, mainly just debating the issue in its report.

In light of these past decisions, should you again trust Gainesville City Commissioners, who are all uneducated with respect to energy generation and transmission, with a 30-year contract that will affect your future electricity bills and taxes? The answer should be a resounding “No! Not on your life!” They have brought us enough misery.

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