The truth about our GRU residential bills

The entrance to GRU’s Deerhaven power plants



On December 19, 2019, the Gainesville Sun belatedly reported on the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) monthly October 2019 residential electric rates comparison. This FMEA report was posted on their website on December 1, 2019. 

This front page Sun article grossly understates the problem with our GRU residential electric bills in many regards. The reported 8% drop in GRU residential electric bills after the November 2017 purchase of the biomass plant did not actually occur until February 2018 (p. 11).

The FMEA comparison does not include taxes, surcharges, or any bundled unrelated charges.

This alleged temporary 8% GRU electric bill (not rate) reduction never occurred because of surcharges outside City limits and/or an array of taxes with pyramiding across the board that were magnified when the fuel adjustment charge and electric rates were essentially swapped. (Before the biomass plant was purchased, the power purchase agreement (PPA) was paid for via the fuel adjustment charge.) “Fuel” is not subject to local utility tax; rates are. 

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Moreover, this temporary, less-than-claimed bill reduction was financed, not realized, and disappeared immediately when GRU increased its electric rates and “fuel” charges in October 2018 and 2019.

The GRU “fuel levelization” balance has been negative (Note 1, Section (Q)) since the biomass plant purchase, portending another GRU “fuel” adjustment charge increase early in 2020.

This outcome is made worse within City limits by the bundling of unrelated charges for stormwater and garbage, which are also rising, with our outlier GRU electric bills.

The Bielarski quotes in the article are worthy of mention. He begins “To be honest…,” then trumpets his overpriced “renewable” electricity, failing to mention the bad deals he and others made to build and purchase the biomass plant and offer an overly generous Solar Feed-in Tariff to our former mayor and others with political connections. 

Bielarski claims “superior service,” while spilling GRU wastewater around the clock through broken clay sewer mains that take on rain water during heavy downpours. GRU employees are said, without specificity, to “complete community service hours and raise money for non-profit organizations,” while GRU management are mired in the criminal justice system for DUI and theft. He claims GRU “annually upgrades 100 customers’ homes”—out of 90,000—while 1300 meters are involuntarily disconnected monthly. 

In 2015, Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos’ “landlord” got one of these free but questionable GRU upgrades to his abode/rental units. I discovered this and other questionable outcomes when I challenged Hayes-Santos’ residency affidavit in court.

Bielarski goes on to proclaim that GRU is a BMW: “When you buy a BMW, you’re not going to buy it at a Kia price.” A BMW, however, does not run on 19th-century fuel, as does Bielarski’s “arsenal” of dirty, uneconomic power plants. 

Bielarski asserts that GRU “power is shut off only Monday-Thursday so families won’t be left in the dark all weekend.” The “two-week extension” he mentions comes at a steep price of at least 1.5% of the total amount due, with additional fees for working out alternative payment arrangements with GRU customer service. A customer who gets disconnected will get an additional bill for the final meter reading, disconnection and reconnection fees, and possibly an increased deposit, on top of late fees.

The Sun goes on to report on a single mother with two children who had her power disconnected and had to abandon their trailer for five months before she could pay her delinquent GRU electric bill, with associated penalties. Ominously, Bielarski states that our outlier GRU electric bills are “the new normal” and cynically leaves it up to “aid groups like Gainesville Community Ministry and Catholic Community Charities [to] collect donations for utility bill help.”

Bielarski cites higher salaries for GRU employees (including his $300,000 salary) as a GRU ratepayer benefit from this catastrophe. Anyone who effectively criticizes these outrages is slimed by Bielarski on his personal Facebook page. Meanwhile, Bielarski received high marks on his evaluation by the Gainesville City Commission. Go figure.