City votes 4-3 to raise GRU rates

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According to GRU officials, the impact will have an impact of about $2 on the average bill of 800 kWh.

Electric bills are on the rise for Gainesville Regional Utilities, though some city officials say the amount is too small to make a noticeable difference.

The City Commission on a split 4-3 vote Thursday approved a 2 percent increase to GRU’s electric base rates for the second year in a row. The amount is lower than the 3 percent GRU wanted.

Commissioner Gail Johnson was the swing vote.

“I’m willing to raise bates rates to be fiscally responsible,” Johnson said. “I’m not at all interested in having our credit downgraded or having our reserves drop.”

According to GRU officials, the impact will have an impact of about $2 on the average bill of 800 kWh. Those who use more energy will pay slightly more than that. The change will go into effect in October after the commission approves the final budget.

Commissioners said they were worried that the utility’s credit rating would drop if it didn’t increase rates. Commissioner Helen Warren pushed for the largest increase among all commissioners between 2 to 3 percent.

“I know several of you swore on your campaign trail that they you weren't going to do anything to raise rates, well I’ve gone two times on a promise to have a utility company that's going be reliable and trusted and fiscally responsible,” she said.

The city raised GRU rates 2 percent last year, then lowered them after purchasing the biomass plant, now called Deerhaven Renewable Generating Station.

Commissioner Harvey Ward said he wasn’t comfortable cutting and raising rates within six months apart. Commissioners David Arreola and Gigi Simmons also supported a 0 percent increase, but that vote failed. Arreola and Simmons are now the only two current commissioners to not support raising rates since being elected.

"We just got done cutting rates," Arreola said. "We cannot raise them again."

Despite the rate reduction earlier this year, GRU’s residential bills are about the eighth highest in the state. Commercial rates are the highest of all utilities in Florida.

GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski has said the 2 percent increase will help fund pay raises for employees, six new positions and about $20 million for a software system that helps store employee and customer data for billing. Bielarski said about 90 percent of private-owned utilities have a form of the software and that it can assist GRU transitioning toward smart meters.

“Just having (the software) opens the heavens for us,” he said.

In 2020, GRU is planning to ask for a 4 percent base rate increase. Any decision, however, is subject to approval by the City Commission. The commission receives about $40 million annually from GRU through its general fund transfer, a figure that has steadily increased in recent years.

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