Gainesville Regional Utilities bills are complicated. Your GRU bill is the sum total of all GRU and non-GRU charges, fees, rates, taxes and more. Every item is bundled, yielding the monthly “total amount due.”
The ever-changing and increasingly regressive GRU electric rate structure, along with bundling, produces an increasingly unfair and highly regressive monthly GRU bill for those who can least afford it. The decision to jack up Tier 1 residential electric rates, and nonresidential non-demand electric rates, while lowering the Tier 2 residential electric rate is an additional regressive assault on the poor.
Charges often have no relationship to actual consumption, thus are immune to conservation. Examples are the customer and connection charges. The electric “fuel” charge does vary with consumption, is very significant and is the same across all customer classes and tiers. “Fuel” includes GRU wholesale purchase and sale of electricity. The GRU general manager alone can increase the charge for “fuel,” or just make it up, anytime.
Fees are tacked on to our GRU bill for a specific purpose. Avoidable fees include late payment (1.5 percent) and outdoor lighting rental. Unavoidable residential fees include stormwater and curbside garbage collection. Stormwater is rain running off impervious surfaces. It is often confused with wastewater, which is sewer water.
Rates refer to the unit cost of a particular metered GRU utility service. Wastewater is always estimated. There are residential rates (one rate structure for all), and nonresidential rates (different types of customers get or can elect different rates).
The term “rate structure” refers to the fact that unit prices change at certain levels of monthly electric consumption called Tiers (850 kWh — residential/1.500 kWh — non-demand nonresidential). The same goes for water. Different nonresidential gas rates are also elective. This makes the number of days in the billing cycle, and your rate classification, important.
Nonresidential demand electric customers also face “demand charges” based on the maximum monthly electrical load GRU observes. Nonresidential GRU electric customers can elect their rate and are frequently put on a wrong rate by default. To amplify confusion, GRU nonresidential electric customers are also referred to by GRU as nonres, general service, commercial or business customers.
GRU and city commissioners regularly trumpet that they “lowered electric rates” due to the November purchase of an unnecessary and worthless biomass electric plant for $750 million, and this is false. On Feb. 1, GRU doubled our electric rates, cut the “fuel” adjustment charge in half and sent most of the resulting windfall in utility taxes to local government! Not all electric rates changed by the same percentage amount and the rate structure was regressively changed.
The electric fuel adjustment charge was flatlined as of January 2009 (the date of biomass contract) until October 2013 (the date biomass plant began operations), resulting in a positive balance of $32 million representing cumulative “fuel” overcharges. The ensuing drop to negative $6.9 million as of the October represents $40 million of camouflage for the impact of biomass on our GRU electric bills.
GRU simultaneously deferred maintenance and pay raises, and used one-time money and financing gimmicks, to further mask biomass impacts. After promising immediate “savings” from the biomass purchase, GRU instead kept its electric prices level and resumed overcharging us for “fuel” from November to February to restore the electric fuel levelization balance to positive $3.6 million in February.
Our GRU electric bills are exorbitant across all GRU rate classifications and are confusingly bundled with many other items. It is indisputable that any residential GRU electric customer consuming the average amount of electricity (around 850 kWh) faces a sky-high total GRU bill largely immune to conservation. The bundled stormwater fee ($9.45) is the same regardless of the size of a dwelling. Likewise, the curbside 18-gallon garbage cart costs $1.00/gallon while the 96-gallon cart cost 37 cents/gallon. This hardly is fair or promotional of recycling.
Finally, the debate about whether to implement a 3.1 percent vs. a 2 percent electric increase does not pertain to GRU residential electric rates or bills at all. Instead, it addresses GRU projected electric revenues. The current proposal will dramatically increase the GRU electric bills for the vast majority of GRU electric customers who consume less than 850 kWh monthly, while actually lowering the GRU bills of all who consume more than 1732 kWh monthly.
Our “progressive” city commissioners are insensitive, regressive and oblivious to equity.
Jim Konish is a utility attorney helping clients lower their GRU bills.
This is from the Gainesville Sun: