GRU misses finalist list for UF power plant

Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) didn’t make the shortlist to build a new power plant for UF.

The City Commission in November approved GRU competing with other energy companies to design, finance, build and operate a new central energy plant, but the university informed the municipal utility in December that it had not made the first cut of potential bidders.

The city had approved GRU moving forward with the initial bid in hopes that the project would generate revenue that could in turn lower electricity bills systemwide. GRU built and currently operates UF’s South Energy Center, a similar system that provides electricity, chilled water and steam to the UF Health hospitals on the South Campus.

The university reviewed 12 initial proposals and chose four companies to move forward with more complete project bids, according to UF’s selection committee paperwork.

UF informed GRU via email that it was not moving forward in the process, but UF did not explain why. Ed Bielarski, GRU’s general manager, in turn informed the commission via email that they had not been successful.

“I am extremely disappointed that 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,” Bielarski wrote the commissioners.

At the November meeting, Bielarski told commissioners that work on the initial proposal was expected to cost no more than $200,000, with the money for it coming from salary savings in open positions at the utility, Bielarski said.

If GRU had made the shortlist, it would have cost the utility $600,000 to $1 million more to put together a final proposal, he said.

Duke Energy, the company that holds the contract for the current energy plant, was also among those companies that did not advance to the next round. The current plant is slated to be decommissioned in 2027.

The university determined that the new facility will be natural-gas powered, but students and community groups have protested the decision, saying that they want UF to build a facility that uses renewable energy instead.

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