March Newsletter

Check out the March newsletter!  Read about the Lone Mountain, a children’s book that educates about the threats of mountaintop removal mining on Appalachian biodiversity and culture.  Get up to date on last months exciting developments and upcoming campaigns!

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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

ALEC is on the ropes!

Help deliver a knockout blow by exposing Duke Energy’s (UF’s energy provider) connection!!

corporate flag of the USThe American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has worked to undermine sustainability and the public interest in a wide variety of ways, including prohibiting the EPA from regulating carbon emissions, legal protections for corporate polluters, and prohibiting local governments from taking proactive steps to protect their communities from environmental toxins, among various other efforts. ALEC has also worked in partnership with the NRA to help spread FL’s “Stand Your Ground” law throughout the U.S.

An article in “The Guardian” newspaper this week notes that “…the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding.” “The Guardian” attributes this membership attrition largely to the controversy surrounding the murder of Trayvon Martin and ALEC’s public role in supporting “Stand Your Ground.”

One corporation which has stood by ALEC, however, is Duke Energy, UF’s energy provider. It’s a shame to think that every time a UF student, faculty, or staff-person flips on a light switch, they are helping to fund an organization that is directly undermining their democracy, their planet, and their future.

Visit Common Cause’s webpage to learn more and sign the petition urging ALEC’s corporate members to end their relationship with the organization.

Contributed by Jason Fults

University of Florida and Duke Energy, an Unsustainable Relationship

Do you know who meets the University of Florida’s energy needs?  Gainesville Regional Utilities?  Progress Energy?  Duke Energy?

It is not Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), and Progress Energy would have been the correct answer before a year ago.  In July 2012, Progress Energy merged with competitor, Duke Energy, forming the largest energy company in the United States.  Duke Energy now provides electricity to a large portion of north Florida as well as western North Carolina, South Carolina, and parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

Duke Energy operates a natural gas-powered turbine power plant that generates 42 megawatts of electricity near the Health Sciences part of the University of Florida (UF) campus in Gainesville.  Opening in 1994, the plant generates electricity and has a generator that produced steam for heating.  UF pays Duke Energy about $42 million for electricity and $4 million for steam heating annually.

The contract between UF and Duke Energy expires in December 2014.  GRU and several other energy companies are interested in becoming UF’s energy provider if this deal expires and is not renewed with Duke Energy.  UF faces a huge opportunity to renegotiate with Duke or other service providers for a clean energy future. The ramifications of this decision will be felt for many years to come. We hope that UF will choose wisely and are asking for an open, inclusive process that keeps UF’s sustainability goals at the forefront as it selects its future energy provider.

There are significant opportunities for Duke or other service providers to meet UF’s goal of clean energy in an economical manner. UF’s current relationship with Duke not only harms the planet; it also hurts our economy and wastes taxpayer dollars. Under its current arrangement, much of the tens of millions of dollars that UF spends on energy annually is sucked out of our state’s economy to pay for non-local fuel sources and to pad the pockets of Duke/Progress shareholders. Conversely, investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would not only strengthen our local economy, but would reduce UF’s carbon footprint and the harm that the University’s energy choices inflict upon other communities.”

Why is this relationship with Duke Energy unsustainable?

In comparison to other large utility companies, Duke Energy’s strategies for the future reduce emissions and update their power stations at a much slower rate (e.g. AEP).  Duke Energy’s current 20 year plan calls for an increase in renewable energy generation from 0.2 (2013) to 3% in 2032 while maintaining 77% of its coal capacity, expanding nuclear capacity and doubling natural gas capacity.  Greenpeace analyses demonstrate that if Duke Energy shows a strong commitment to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, it could save its Carolina customers up to 108 billion dollars.  Instead, Duke Energy has requested increases in residential rates of over 10% after recently increasing energy rates by 7.2%.

A report by the NAACP ranking and grading the effects of coal-fired power plants on low-income and people of color communities gave Duke Energy a failing grade for environmental justice performance.  This grade comes from a study of 378 plants based on their SO2 and NOx emissions and a failing grade indicates that Duke Energy operates plants that have a “considerable and disproportionate impact” on low-income households and people of color.

How are other Universities responding to Duke Energy?

On other campuses, students are demanding their institutions divest in big oil and coal companies. Without divesting in companies such as Duke Energy, they would not be able to reach their sustainability goals.  In 2010, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill campus declared it will end its use of coal by 2020.  A few months ago, the UNC system president sent a letter to Duke Energy requesting more clean energy in efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

It is clear that Duke energy does not currently align well with UF’s sustainability policies and carbon neutrality goals.  Join Gainesville Loves Mountains in encouraging UF and its students to demand cleaner energy and higher social responsibility standards by signing our online petition.

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!