News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gainesville Regional Utility maintains power for customers amidst severe weather events

Gainesville was nearly unscathed by Idalia. The hurricane left behind debris on the streets.(Jimena Romero/WUFT News)
GRU powerline crew members traveled around Gainesville in their trucks to restore power to thousands of people after Hurricane Idalia. (Jimena Romero/WUFT News)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida and Santa Fe College students received a warm welcome back to Gainesville... literally.  

Students were slammed with excessive heat warnings and a hurricane within the first two weeks of classes. As Hurricane Idalia threatened a direct path to Gainesville, students began scrambling to prepare in case they lost power or access to clean water.

“I was worried about getting enough supplies,” UF junior Lauryn White said. “A lot of stores were out of water, and I don’t have a flashlight. I kept wondering what would happen if we lost power.”

White was not alone in her struggle. Local store shelves were barren in the days leading up to the hurricane. Several grocery stores were sold out of water, nonperishable food items and batteries.

Thankfully, concerns about power loss were unfounded for some Gainesville residents. “We never lost power at our apartment,” White said. “I’m really glad nothing happened because we weren’t able to get much beforehand.”

White said she lives at Tuscana Luxury Apartments, a Trimark property less than one mile from the UF campus. The apartment complex uses Gainesville Regional Utilities for utility management.

Some residents were less concerned about obtaining supplies but still worried about damage to personal belongings caused by the storm.

“We had enough water and nonperishable food, so I wasn’t too worried about that aspect,” UF junior Noa Alkelay said. “I was more worried about where to park my scooter. At my apartment, scooter parking is on the first floor, but I moved it to the second floor before the hurricane because I was worried about flooding.”

Alkelay was also concerned about potential outages at her apartment.

“We put a lot of water bottles in the freezer in case we lost power and set the air really low, so the apartment stayed cold,” she said. “We lost power during Irma for a whole week, and it was a nightmare.”

Alkelay is a resident of 2nd Avenue Centre apartments, an American Campus Community less than a mile from the UF campus. The apartment complex uses GRU for utilities, and it is located on the same street as GRU’s main building.

“Thankfully, we didn’t lose power this time,” Alkelay said.

Other local residents experienced outages at their apartments, but they were short-lived.

“My apartment lost power around 8 a.m. on the day of the hurricane,” Santa Fe student Seamus Wixted said. “My roommates and I had a fridge full of food, and we were nervous we’d have to throw it all away. Luckily, the power came back on after about 30 minutes.”

Wixted said he lives at Social 28 apartments, just steps from the UF campus. He said the worst part about losing power was losing air conditioning in his apartment.

“Losing air was definitely uncomfortable,” he said. “It could’ve been much worse though. All our food was okay, and we didn’t have any other problems.”

As local residents noted, GRU was able to maintain or quickly restore power despite recent changes to the company’s governance and operations.

“The hurricane caused about 14,500 power outages in our service area which we restored in less than 24 hours,” GRU communications director David Warm said.

Warm noted that though GRU worked quickly to restore power across Gainesville, they did not do so alone. He explained the measures in place to enlist help in the case of severe weather events, such as Hurricane Idalia.

“Almost all of our 850 employees have what’s called a gray sky role,” Warm said. “This, in some cases, is a separate role from their normal position. When a severe storm looks like it’s headed our way, we activate gray sky roles.”

According to Warm, GRU always has in-department help when necessary. The gray sky system ensures that employees are allocated where they are needed, especially during times when outages are more likely. However, outside help is enlisted for more extreme cases as necessary.

This “mutual-aid assistance” is typically enlisted from utility companies in other states who are clear of a storm’s path, according to Warm. These companies send line-workers and tree crews to work with GRU’s team to restore power more efficiently.

“During this storm, we had more than 30 line-workers from utilities in Alabama and around 25 tree crews from North Carolina here and ready to work in case we received extensive damage,” Warm said.

Just as GRU receives aid from other utility companies, they assist other areas as needed. Once the Gainesville area is taken care of, workers travel to other affected areas.

“After the storm, we sent line-workers and wastewater workers to Suwannee, Perry and Cedar Key,” Warm said. “Employees from our Water and Wastewater Department have been helping consistently since the day after the storm.”

GRU understands that storms and other severe weather events are always possible, and they are always looking for ways to expedite power restoration for Gainesville residents.

“We plan throughout the year for storms and educate customers about how they can prepare,” Warm said. “We are always working to improve response so customers experience the least impact possible.”

According to Warm, GRU customers have power 99.99% of the time. Based on this figure and power-restoration times after Hurricane Idalia, the company appears to be working efficiently. However, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that changes the way GRU operates.

House Bill 1645 was signed by DeSantis on July 28. The bill creates the GRU Authority, a board of five appointees to govern over GRU. The GRU Authority replaced what was formerly known as the GRU Agency.

The board will no longer collaborate with city commission and city charter officers. Instead, every four years, at least one member of the Gainesville community will be appointed by Gov. DeSantis to serve on the board. The governor may also choose the course of action to be taken with board members. They may be removed or suspended at his discretion, according to the bill.

According to the first section of the bill, members appointed to the board must be of diverse backgrounds and have recognized ability to fulfill their duties. One member must be a local resident and customer of GRU. Another must be a “private, non-government customer consuming at least 10,000 kilowatt hours per month of electronic usage” during each month of the last year.

The bill also states that the authority “shall only consider pecuniary factors and utility industry best practice standards, which do not include consideration of the furtherance of social, political or ideological interests.” It defines these standards as practices which will “solely further the fiscal and financial benefit” of GRU and its customers.

In July, the non-profit group known as Gainesville Residents United and six independent plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the bill. The Gainesville residents argued that the bill’s refusal to consider social and political factors is a violation of free speech rights.

DeSantis and his lawyers contend that the bill does not obstruct free speech rights. The governor said citizens are welcome to bring issues of this nature to the board.

Though citizens may voice their concerns to the board, the authority may not act on these decisions if their primary goal is to further social or political ideology rather than offer financial benefit to GRU or its customers, according to the bill. Board members may listen to concerns presented by citizens. However, depending on the nature of the issue, they may not be able to intervene or offer further consideration.

Gov. DeSantis and his lawyers are working to dismiss the lawsuit and maintain the integrity of the bill. It is unclear whether House Bill 1645 will change the way GRU prepares for and provides aid during a severe weather event in the future. The bill went into effect July 1.

Marissa is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing