A Step Closer

On April 17th, the Gainesville City Commission heard the voices of our brothers and sisters in Appalachia who have spent decades combating the poisonous repercussions of MTR. The spirits of Judy Bonds and Larry Gibson, both of whom visited Gainesville and inspired our movement, were in the Commission chamber standing with us.

Many of the local citizens who gave testimony were first-time attendees at a Commission meeting. Others drove from nearly an hour away because of their heartfelt commitment to this issue. They were young and old, and many of them had roots in West Virginia and Kentucky. Led by Commissioner Lauren Poe, and moved by the passionate testimony of dozens of citizens, the Commission voted unanimously to direct the City Attorney to draft a resolution condemning MTR “…and the resulting environmental, social and economic devastation incurred by such practices.”

The Commission also voted, by a 5-2 majority, to direct our utility’s General Manager to help draft a policy that states “…Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) will no longer purchase coal sourced from MTR operations, and will from the effective date forward only purchase performance or compliance coal from the Central Appalachian region from deep mine operations.” Both the resolution and the policy will need to come before the Commission again for final approval.

All of our Commissioners expressed trepidations about how a transition to solely deep-mined coal could potentially impact electricity rates, and Commissioner Chase and Mayor Braddy would not support the policy for this reason. Yet Commissioner Poe wisely inserted an “escape clause” into the motion that would allow the Commission to temporarily suspend the policy if it was found to have a significant impact on rates. The policy deals clearly with rate concerns. It is also comparable to the MTR policy of Duke Energy, the nation’s largest utility and one of GRU’s main competitors.

Gainesville Loves Mountains believes that this policy is a sound compromise between fiscal concerns and our commitment to environmental stewardship. Our supporters have collectively spent hundreds of hours volunteering for weatherization programs for low-income residents and are keenly aware of the difficulties that high utility bills can bring. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: our community does not have to choose between dirty energy and high utility bills.

In addition to our efforts to end GRU’s consumption of MTR coal, we are also pursuing comprehensive energy efficiency policy that will help residents and businesses conserve energy, strengthen our local economy, and transition our community away from a dependence upon fossil fuels. We have been leaders in the countywide effort to adopt a financing mechanism for clean energy and energy efficiency retrofits for local businesses. We are also advocating for a “Renters’ Initiative” that would finally bring the financial benefits of energy efficiency to everyone in Gainesville, not just property owners.

There is still much work to be done on all these fronts, and we invite all who love mountains and all who love Gainesville to join our efforts. Communities everywhere face difficult choices ahead as the age of low-cost, easily accessible fossil fuels comes to an end. We all must grapple with the implications of this monumental transition by vigorously pursuing energy security and energy efficiency, and through persistent, focused efforts to reduce our energy footprint. Last Thursday’s Commission meeting was a small victory, but it was an important one. Our sincerest thanks to the Gainesville City Commission, the citizens of Gainesville, and the inspiring work of our friends in Appalachia for moving us one step further along the path to a clean energy economy.

-Jason Fults

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Gainesville MTR Ordinance Letters of Support from Appalachia

We’ve received several letters of support from our allies in Appalachia in support of our ordinance ending Gainesville Regional Utilities’ purchase of coal mined by mountaintop removal. We want to take this opportunity to thank them and share their encouraging words as we prepare for tomorrow’s City Commission meeting.  Come out and show your support for Appalachian communities by standing alongside your fellow Gainesville citizens!!

Take some time and read the letters below to see how much this means to our concerned friends in Appalachia. Click on the image to view the full letter:

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's letter supporting MTR Ordinance

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s letter supporting MTR Ordinance

A letter of support for the MTR Ordinance signed by several concerned action groups in Appalachia

A letter of support for the MTR Ordinance signed by several concerned action groups in Appalachia

Alliance for Appalachia Letter for Community Publication

Alliance for Appalachia Letter of support for MTR Ordinance

 

 

Venue and Sponsorship Change: Gainesville Loves Mountains’ City Commission Candidate Forum

Due to the City of Gainesville and the Community Redevelopment Agency’s sponsorship of the Cinema Verde Environmental Film and Arts Festival, Cinema Verde will no longer be allowed formal involvement with our planned Candidate Forum and the Forum will instead be held at a neighboring venue.

On Saturday, February 15, 2014, from 5:30pm – 7:30pm, Gainesville Loves Mountains will host a forum for candidates in the upcoming City Commission election. The forum will be held at The Civic Media Center, 433 S. Main St., Gainesville, FL. Members of the public and media outlets are encouraged to attend to learn more about the candidates’ positions on energy and sustainability issues.

All ten candidates in the election have confirmed their attendance at the forum. The forum will be structured so that candidates from one district do not need to stay for the entire time, although they are welcome to do so. The schedule is as follows:

5:30-6pm: District 2

6-7pm: At-large

7-7:30pm: District 3

Gainesville Loves Mountains would like to remind the public, and all attending candidates, that we are a registered 501(c)3 educational organization that is legally prohibited from endorsing candidates. We view this forum as an educational public service to the community, and it is 100% free and open to the public. We have invited feedback and participation from all ten candidates, and are committed to providing each of them with equal time to respond to our questions.

GLM would also like to offer a special thanks to the Civic Media Center, an alternative library, reading room, and infoshop, and a proud Gainesville institution since 1993, for their flexibility and support in hosting our Candidate Forum.

Oppose Rep. Perry’s GRU Governance bill!

January 15, 2014

 

Dear Mayor and Commissioners,

 

The bill Representative Perry presented last Friday is a dreadful undermining of local control of our city’s assets and your ability to conduct our city affairs, including long term strategic planning and fiscal prudence, and I call on all of you to vigorously oppose this misplaced attempt at disenfranchising we city residents, the owners of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), and the undermining of your fiduciary responsibilities to the City and its future.

 

This bill says that each GRU account holder, city and non-city alike, would get a letter in the mail this summer, at a time of year when a lot of people are gone, with a yes or no vote to create a board that is formed by mostly outsiders — this is not even being done with an election under the supervisor of elections and the public debates that accompany elections. Account holders are not necessarily residents of the City, yet this is going only to them. Anyone with multiple accounts, including corporate account-holders, will get more than one vote, which could skew this vote even more unfairly.

 

In my household are three voting citizens of Gainesville. I am the only account holder, so right there, 2/3 of my household, who are owners of GRU, are denied their right to vote on their asset. In the nine houses on my cul-de-sac, this bill would disenfranchise HALF of the voters, so what is that number going to be across the city?

 

GRU is a city owned asset, a 100-year investment by the residents of this City, and should not be governed by a preponderance of members appointed by other bodies, especially from outside the City, especially by the State (Governor).

 

GRU is a core component of, and integral part of our city’s strategic planning and vision. It is critical for our City Commission to be in charge, since an appointed board has one narrow focus/responsibility, which appears to be only about low rates. It is the City Commission’s broad integrated policies on taxes, energy, environmental quality, public works, housing, transportation, infill development, etc. that must work together, with long term thinking, to create Gainesville’s quality attributes that continue to attract national attention and have buffered us during this economic downturn.

 

The 30% of non-city customers not having a voice is a false argument. I keep hearing that 30% of the owners of GRU are being left out—account holders being confused with owners. Because we have a public utility, everyone does have a voice. Just because they can’t vote in the city, doesn’t mean they are shut out of meetings or not allowed to present their viewpoint or information.

 

I lived outside the city for my first nine years here and I was involved in opposing the proposed new coal plant. Others even more involved than I also lived outside the city limits, but we met with GRU management and staff. We attended city meetings and spoke— we offered research and ideas about conservation and health, — the only thing we couldn’t do was vote for City Commission, but we certainly were heard—and we don’t have that new coal plant either!

 

Most people in Florida and elsewhere not only don’t have a choice of their utility, they have no hope of a voice, because they are under a for-profit private corporation that could not care less what its customers have to say. You live with it or move. And because private utilities are beholden to their shareholders and quarterly performance, what is best for the community and community values are not part of their fiduciary responsibility or interest, so the community is more vulnerable and worse off.

 

The Tampa Bay Tribune reported Oct 12, 2013 a demonstration against Duke Energy where the crowd was out in front of Duke Energy’s downtown St. Petersburg office protesting a proposed settlement with the Florida Public Service Commission that permits the utility to recover more than $3 billion from 1.7 million customers for the nuclear plant that will not be built. Those customers were outside on the street, not in Dukes’ office, not able to have a voice at all!

 

Rates are also a red herring. Taking GRU away from direct governance by the City Commission will not automatically give people low rates or bills, and high rates do not automatically equal high bills. High bills are a housing issue, they are a wasteful habits issue, they are a lack of knowledge issue. They are a global issue of rising electric costs due to shifting to unconventional fossil fuels that are expensive to extract and process. They are an issue of leaky, non weatherized, or non-retrofitted buildings, and a lack of state and national financial and policy support for transitioning to renewable energy and rewarding conservation and efficiency. We tend to waste about 30% or more of our energy and water in the USA.

 

High rates can actually inspire people to learn how to quit wasting, and to seek out ways to lower their use and their bills. High bills hurt the poor and fixed income population, and I support substantial efforts to address the financial stress they are coping with, but that is a housing, lack of knowledge/wasteful habits, income inequality, health and poverty issue that is a systemic problem whether rates are high or low.

 

The cry for low rates distracts us from recognizing the immediate financial and health benefits we gain by implementing vigorous and comprehensive conservation and efficiency measures, and that keep us vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel markets and costs of transport from far away.

 

Please do what you can to oppose this bill, and protect our rights, and our options, as owners of GRU and citizens of Gainesville.

 

Thank you,

Nancy Deren,

volunteer with Gainesville Loves Mountains

Our Current Impasse with GRU Fuels on Procurement of Mountaintop Removal Coal

Unfortunately, despite more than 2.5 years of dialogue, we have reached an impasse with GRU Fuels on the continued procurement of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal. Their representatives have refused to even acknowledge the repercussions of this mining method for Appalachian communities, instead asserting that “All reasonable goals relative to market and local recognition of the issue have been achieved” and that “Concrete regulatory and economic factors have achieved tangible results,” leading to the “…elimination of MTR operations over time.”

Our friends in Appalachia, who live daily with the realities of MTR, do not find this answer to be acceptable, or reflective of their lived experiences, and neither do we. So our campaign continues. Our only option now appears to be concrete, legislative action by the City Commission. GRU’s next round of coal purchases will likely take place in Spring 2014, so we have a window of a few months to get a solid commitment from our City Commission that there will be no future purchases of MTR coal by our community.

Please continue to contact your Commissioners with this message, and continue to help get the word out about our petition. If you would like to help with further outreach and/or research on this issue, please contact us. We need your continued support to win this campaign!