The Gainesville City Commission unanimously approved a motion to accept the city auditor’s report involving the ongoing dispute between Gainesville Regional Utilities and the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center on Thursday.
The audit found that GRU’s 93,000 customers have overpaid nearly $900,000, said Carlos Holt, city auditor.
GRU customers will have to deal with current rates, even if they’re being overcharged, until a solution is ironed out.
The discrepancy in charges started after GRU originally partnered with GREC to produce biomass energy.
“Things didn’t add up right,” Holt said.
Holt explained the original contract stated the two companies would use the dollar-to-euro exchange rate as part of a financial algorithm to calculate costs for the Construction Cost Adjuster.
The adjuster protects someone if construction takes a while to get started by protecting them from inflation, Holt said.
Holt found GREC was using the euro-to-dollar exchange rate instead, resulting in an excess of charges to GRU, which trickled down to its customers, some of which voiced opinions at the meeting.
Customer James Konish said he didn’t think the mistake was an error in judgement, but an “organized scheme.”
When talking about a possible rationale behind GREC deciding to use the incorrect exchange rate, Holt said he had “no idea” why.
Holt said an audit had been requested when his predecessor was in office, but it was really never carried out.
City Commissioner Randy Wells credited Holt for his ability to take initiative, and called his work superb.
Holt said he appreciated GRU’S willingness to cooperate with open arms during his assessment of the situation, and that there remain some other smaller issues.
Incorporated into the audit were 15 recommendations, and Holt said that GRU’s General Manager, Edward Bielarski, accepted 14 of them.
Bielarski suggested that he will meet with the city attorney next week to discuss further action.
City Commissioner Craig Carter said he was amazed that GREC made such an error.
“We need to stand firm on this and quit rolling over for these people,” he said.
Mayor Ed Braddy said he was interested in whatever measures would help to expedite the process.
He explained that GRU will have a 30-day window where no action can be taken until GREC submits a response of its own.
The audit also stated that controls weren’t in place to ensure fuel prices were accurately stated. GRU originally developed a plan to conduct regular visits to examine fuel ticket information, but only one such visit had been conducted.
The next step to recoup the money and solve many of the issues may include arbitration, and a solution should be completed before the end of the 2015 calendar year, the audit stated.