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Difficult choices on the agenda for GRU budget meeting

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

An email from GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski to the Gainesville City Commission yesterday warns that tomorrow’s GRU Budget Meeting (5 p.m.) will require some difficult decisions. The email was prompted by a notification from a City attorney that GRU’s agreement with Itron for Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) will soon be ready to sign.

Bielarski says in the email that the funding for the Itron contract was to be provided from the savings from the 2019 debt restructuring, but “the commission’s actions requiring GRU to fund a $36 million GFT [General Fund Transfer] has resulted in the diversion of those savings.”

Bielarski further says that GRU’s only “levers” are utility rates, headcount, third-party services, and its profit. With the profit set by the GFT and third-party services “already reduced to the levels required for safety and reliability only,” the only options are to reduce headcount and/or raise utility rates. If the City Commission doesn’t raise utility rates, GRU will need to reduce headcount by as much as 14%, and that will make it impossible to implement AMI.

AMI replaces analog meters with smart meters and the capability for remote meter reading, data collection, real-time usage data for consumers, outage indication, connection/disconnection, and other factors. GRU has argued that the cost of implementing the technology will be offset by the cost savings.

Several commenters at public meetings have argued that AMI will be used by GRU and the City to force Time of Use (TOU) dynamic pricing on GRU’s customers. Local attorney Ray Washington was trying to discuss this on February 4 when his mask fell down, he refused to pull it up because he was short of breath, Mayor Lauren Poe gaveled the meeting into recess, and Washington was arrested for trespassing. As a condition of pretrial release, Washington is not permitted to have any contact with the City, so he has been unable to speak about the issue at meetings.

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Studies show that low and moderate income families and businesses will be disadvantaged by TOU: “Low and moderate income (LMI) customers are especially disadvantaged by TOU rates, [attorney Marcel Hawiger for customer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network] said. There is not a perfect correlation, but LMI customers tend to use less electricity, on average, ‘and we prefer tiered rates because they protect affordability for low usage customers.'”

Nathan Skop, a former Florida Public Service Commissioner, has argued that GRU would be better off “paying off its $1.7 billion mountain of debt with this $81 million rather than using it for AMI, which offers no tangible financial savings to GRU customers and may result in increased costs that particularly hurt low-income customers.”

  • Almost completely backed into a corner now. “Savings” spent up huh? No wonder on that. Whomever designed that 7 elected local yocals with zero required experience, would be in charge of long term billion $ decisions got it wrong. We now have 7 diverse folks with less real experience combined than 1 well rounded business person. A mayor with a history degree that teaches high schoolers in dual program and at times claims to be an economics professor, several failed business/bankrupt owners, and a wannabe finance man whose only finance experience was on the Career Source oversight board that had to be taken over (receivership) by the state, shut down for months after $639,000 had been used for just 42 eligible participants with a mere $37,412 paid in wages – Gnsvll Sun Oct 28, 2019 – and a “lack of transparency” after they refused to provide documents to the investigators. This will not end well as they have no experience to draw from. Any oversight over this utility should not come from this commission. It is past time for a higher entity to take control before they finish destroying what once was a fine city and utility. Speak to someone at state level now to find out what can be done. Maybe the governor’s office can do something.

    • Nice, but you forgot Hayes-Santos was also a Lift and Uber driver before he helped wreck Career Source, that should count for something.

  • Sell the utility to FPL or Duke, lease them the
    Transmission lines. The utility will then be regulated
    By the PSC. The money received in lease is your
    GFT$ to help pay for gov services…no more stupid
    Wasting of money on “woke ideas” like 100% renewable by 2045, etc. Stop pandering to transients and give them bus ticket out of here….make a new city slogan;
    Gaineville: clean & green. Win win.

    • I have a better idea – put the city commissioners on a bus and get them out of here. HUGE WIN!

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