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GRU loses bid for UF’s Central Energy Project

GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski speaks to the Gainesville City Commission on November 4, 2021

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) has learned that they were not shortlisted for the University of Florida’s Central Energy Project. The university had requested Statements of Qualification (SOQ) for the purpose of shortlisting vendors to design, construct, operate, and maintain a proposed campus central energy plant to provide steam, chilled water, and electricity to the campus; construct a thermal piping distribution loop; and construct an electrical substation.

The short list, issued on December 16, includes Gator Campus Energy, Gator Campus Utility Partners, Gator Energy Services, and Swamp Power Partners. None of the companies are registered in Florida, according to Sunbiz. Gator Campus Energy, LLC is registered in Delaware.

At the November 4 Gainesville City Commission meeting, GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski told the commission that GRU’s existing campus project, the South Energy Center, would be the prototype for the new project: “It’s been a very successful project for us. I think it bodes well of what we can do for the University of Florida.” He said the SOQ process would cost about $200,000. Commissioners were not generally in favor of building a fossil fuel plant, but they said this could be an opportunity to make sure the plant is clean, earn some revenue, and possibly influence future energy decisions at the university.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker was in favor of the project, saying, “When we win—and I’m already claiming it—when we win, we will have taken one more step closer to improving our relationship with UF and delivering to the citizens exactly what they need.”

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In an email message to the Gainesville City Commission and the GRU leadership team after the shortlist was announced, Bielarski said, “I am extremely disappointed the the University has not given the utility the opportunity to continue, given our success with the South Energy Center, and the City/University partnership that is often spoken of.” 

Local attorney and former Florida Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop commented, “Although GRU had a fiduciary duty to pursue the UF Central Plant opportunity, this incremental revenue stream probably wouldn’t make a noticeable difference in lowering GRU electric rates and may have resulted in GRU issuing additional debt. The bright side of not being shortlisted is that GRU doesn’t have to spend another $600,000 of GRU customer money pursuing a UF contract that had a low probability of capture to begin with.”

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