OUR GRU BILLS ARE OFF THE CHART
The Gainesville Sun’s improved coverage of our skyrocketing GRU Bills, unfortunately, understates the magnitude of the problem. This occurs while certain City Commissioners and GRU management continue to try to mislead us. It is essential not to use the term “bill” and “rates” as if they are the same – they are not.
There is a big difference between our combined GRU Bill and the “rates”. In fact, the GRU Bill is a complex bundle of different utility services which implicate rates, charges, taxes, and often, surcharges.
Speaking out on Sunday, February 9, 2014, Gainesville City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins proclaims “…Let’s look at a metric that matters: from 2012 to 2013, GRU’s average residential electric bill fell more than five percent from $107.78 to $102.27”.
Contrariwise, the Gainesville Sun reported on Thursday February 13, 2014 on page 6A that Commissioner Hawkins’ alleged yet unspecified average residential electric bill was the highest in the state.
Omitted from the discussion is the important fact that GRU overcharged us for fuel it actually used to generate electricity from 2009-2013 to the tune of approximately $30,000,000, in violation of the City’s own ordinance, which went unnoticed by both inside and outside City auditors. Concerned citizens uncovered the problem. The City Commission in July 2013 directed GRU to begin an erratic spin the wheel politicized approach to our “fuel” adjustment charge assessing .051 Kwh July , 2013, .039 August and September 2013, .054 October and November 2013 and .071 December 2013. .086 Kwh is forecast for fall 2014, and there is no reason to believe that this number will not go higher after that. This would explain the illusory and temporary decline Mr. Hawkins falsely characterizes as “conservation”. The current and upcoming increased “fuel” adjustment charge will comprise about 50% of the your total electric charge.
This also illustrates how the current GRU Board of Directors, the Gainesville City Commission, is willing to embrace an arbitrary, ad hoc and probably illegal approach to onerous charges which total seven (7) times the amount of money generated by the City’s ad valorem tax – monies that are not kept in a separate account or audited in a meaningful way. The total 1000 Kwh GRU residential electric charge of $141.15, attributed by the Florida Municipal Electric Association and GRU, is actually understated. I calculate the December, 2013 GRU residential 1000 Kwh electric charge at $151.70 – in the City, and $158.71 – outside the City (due to the City surcharge). In the fall of 2014, after our $30,000,000 “fuel” overcharge is dissipated on the GREC biomass electricity payments, our total GRU residential electricity charges will go up to $167.07 and $174.00 respectively, unless the rates are lowered (as some were in October, 2013). If the rates were reduced to zero, we still would have high total electric charges.
Of course, as of December 2013, the “fuel” now includes the money actually being paid to GREC for biomass electricity we are buying at over three (3) times the current market price that never was needed in the first place, until at least 2022.
In the GRU downtown lobby, a flyer we pay for out of a $1,500,000 annual GRU advertising budget is to be found titled “Utility Prices Are Changing”. While referring to our bills, the claim is made that a 1000 Kwh GRU residential electric bill will increase from $127.67 to $141.15 October, 2013. Both numbers are understatements. GRU recommends here that thermostats (if you have one) be set at 78° (or more) in the summer, and 68° (or less) in the winter. A culture of misery is cynically offered to the “owners” of the utility.
It gets worse. Unlike the County, which provides cheaper garbage service outside the Gainesville City limits assessed on the property tax bill, the City of Gainesville ties the sale of residential electricity to your subscription to the City’s private contractor garbage service for a minimum charge of $15.25 per month (18 gal.can). The City will not sell you electricity unless you take a garbage cart. This is in violation of the Clayton Act of the Federal Antitrust Laws and Florida Law. Residential units in complexes which have five (5) or more units are arbitrarily spared the additional pain, along with non-residential customers.
Moreover, a stormwater fee is likewise tied to each and every electrical meter within but not outside the City limits – with no exceptions for any residential City customer. The savings on the surcharges by annexing into the city are reduced accordingly, as with garbage.
Finally, the total charges for all utility services (electricity, gas, water, wastewater, garbage, stormwater) are bundled so that any failure to pay the entire combined GRU bill is treated as a prorata delinquency across the board.
For those who cannot pay the whole bill, and who do not pull off a workout, electricity is turned off first, then everything else is taken away shortly thereafter. 1,000 to 2,000 disconnects occur every month out of 93,000 accounts, 30% of which are outside the City of Gainesville limits.
Our GRU electric charges are far more than claimed, illegally bundled with unrelated items, will increase more this fall and thereafter, and are completely beyond that of any other Florida utility by far due to outrageous mismanagement of the utility. Those responsible must and will be held responsible.