Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) solicited community input at a meeting on Wednesday as part of its preparation of an updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).
The IRP should be complete around the beginning of 2024. Based on computer model projections for the next 30 years, the IRP is a guide for GRU’s immediate actions to protect the future. The projections will include scenarios and sensitivities, which were the topic of Wednesday’s meeting.
Brad Kushner, a consultant with Acuity Design Group, presented four scenarios, or possible futures, that GRU could have to deal with. While current trends continued in the baseline scenario, other possibilities will look at higher prices for renewable energy utilities, a rapid rise of electric vehicles and the impact of high inflation.
“We’re not picking a future and saying, hey, this is the future we choose to live. We’re looking at a bunch of ‘what ifs,’ and we do that by looking at scenarios,” Kushner said as he presented the scenarios to gathered community members.
GRU has two gas turbines set to retire in 2026 and a steam turbine scheduled to close down the following year. Though Kushner said GRU could continue meeting peak demand until 2032, the IRP looks to consequences in later years to recommend what changes could be made in the next five years to stabilize.
Kushner’s presentation also included various sensitivities, including the reduction of peak energy demand, increased capability for off-system/market purchase and the reduction of CO2 emissions.
Most of the community members who came to the meeting had questions surrounding GRU’s CO2 reduction efforts. The IRP preparation Kushner presented includes possibilities for GRU to meet the city commission’s 2018 resolution to be carbon neutral by 2045, but it also plans to consider a 75% reduction of 2005’s actual CO2 emissions by 2045.
While scenarios are possible futures that involve changes in multiple variables, sensitivities will be run through the computer model independent of any other change, with base rates for all other variables. Several attendees said they felt concerned the “sensitivity” designation does not give appropriate priority to carbon emissions.
“I am concerned that the urgency of the environmental aspects of sustainability aren’t being taken seriously, even though they’ve been included in the models,” Jaime Suárez Roy, a community member, said. “I’m hopeful that with community feedback that will change, but it’s critical that we move quickly towards sustainability in the next decade in order to secure a livable future.”
Other attendees, including Alex Hamilton, expressed worry over the authority board which is set to take over GRU in October. The authority board is part of a state intervention to salvage GRU’s profitability by taking control of its operation. The board will have the final say on GRU’s plans, and according to HB 1645, the bill which gave the state authority, it must focus on profits, specifically excluding “the furtherance of social, political, or ideological interests.”
“We don’t know how much of this [IRP] is actually going to inform the board’s decision, if any at all,” Hamilton said. “They could just say no, we’re just gonna focus on economic bottom line, what’s the cheapest thing for us to do, and just follow that.”
Eric Walters, GRU’s interim chief sustainability officer, said the utility will work on a balanced approach for the plans it brings to the board. He said GRU will be prepared to work with the board to address all its responsibilities.
“You can’t ignore economics because it has to be a factor in your decision,” Walters said. “You cannot ignore the impacts of the environment, because it has to be a factor in your decision-making. And neither can you ignore the people or the social aspect.”
Other attendees wondered if GRU could work to educate corporations and the community about conserving their energy use.
Walters said the utility can only push so far with education. In the end, customers make decisions about things like when to leave their lights on, based on factors that can be difficult to predict or generalize.
“You can look at an average customer, but it’s really just a mathematical representation of all your customers. Customers all do sort of their own thing for different reasons,” Walters said.
Wednesday’s meeting was part of a series of workshops GRU is using to inform a new IRP. The last IRP, done in 2019, addressed Gainesville’s 2045 zero emission goals in the rise of electric vehicles, an increase in customers, aging facilities and more.