Originally published on Gainesville.com August 3, 2017

I’ve been reading the opinion pages of this newspaper, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I think about Gainesville Regional Utilities, the albatross around the neck of our community.

I was hopeful when the Utility Advisory Board was formed last year that it might knock some sense into GRU. Yes, I was hopeful even despite the blatant conflict of interest created by installing as the board’s chair the CEO of Infinite Energy, a for-profit energy supplier. Tallahassee would be proud … but I digress.

At least the board includes good folks like Dave Denslow, the retired University of Florida economics professor, who tells it like it is. His recent column noted the irony in comparing the fact that a corporation like Florida Power and Light charges low rates and was named the top green utility in the nation, while the politically governed GRU charges high rates and burns wood chips to keep the lights on like it’s the Stone Age.

What’s next? Cow manure? Whale oil?

It’s embarrassing — like a bad movie that keeps getting worse but you can’t stop watching.

An out-of-state company built the ironically named Gainesville Renewable Energy Center a few years ago for a whopping $500 million, and the geniuses at GRU signed us up to pay $2 billion for the power. Now GRU is begging to buy out the boondoggle for $1 billion (of our money) because that’s somehow a good deal for all of us.

It seems the only thing that’s renewable in Gainesville is gullibility.

Meanwhile, the executives at FPL are cutting billion-dollar checks, too … except they’re spending their money on cutting-edge solar energy farms, including one just a few miles down the road from us. Perhaps it wouldn’t bother me so much if FPL’s ads didn’t remind me how much cheaper their rates are. (They even have an app, for Pete’s sake! An app!)

Alas, new-fangled ideas like cell phones and solar panels aren’t even on the radar of GRU boss Ed Bielarski. He says he’s busy “upgrading GRU to be a 21st century utility,” which apparently involves spending $20 million so we can maybe be ready for smart meters in the future like most of the rest of America is today. At this rate, we’ll barely be ready for the current century before the next one is upon us.

Finally, I must applaud the creative description of how competitive GRU’s rates are. How exciting to know we pay “less than $20 a month higher than the state average” for electricity?

That’s some high-quality marketing mumbo-jumbo right there. What does it really mean? Let’s take that $20 per month, multiply it by 12 months and 93,000 GRU customers, and it adds up to $22 million in bonus electric bills this year for Gainesville suckers like me.

An old, crass saying comes to mind: Don’t pee on my boots and tell me it’s raining.

Is anyone else tired of getting wet?

— Derek J. Uman is owner/president of Clear Capture Investigations in Gainesville.