Will Gainesville Be The Next Harrisburg?

Posted by Trish Riley, October 15, 2011

“They say it’s a good deal, but they won’t say how it’s a good deal,” said attorney Ray Washington, representing “Gainesville Citizens Care,” the group opposing the city’s biomass project.

“The citizens of Pennsylvania said almost exactly what my clients have been saying for six months now,” he said.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has filed for bankruptcy, and according to the City Controller, their trash-to-energy incinerator is a hundred percent to blame.

“It’s easy to say now, that was a big mistake,” said Dan Miller, Harrisburg’s City Controller.

Eight years ago, the city borrowed $125 million to upgrade the incinerator to meet EPA standards.

“About 30 people got up during public participation, and all but 2 of them spoke against doing it,” he said, but the city went ahead, and now has $310 million of debt on the incinerator.

“I’d make sure it’s being done for the right reasons, that you’ve got honest estimates of the cost, the revenue it will generate, of the operating expenses,” he said.

GRU leaders say Harrisburg’s incinerator is completely different than the city’s biomass plant.

“We’re just integrating another source of electricity into our total mix, and it’s a portion of that mix,” said Bob Hunzinger, GRU General Manager.

If the plant doesn’t work, he says, the burden is not on the city.

“We don’t have the finance risk, or the construction risk, or the operating risk of the plant,” he said.

However, some disagree, and say rate payers will be bailing out the city for what they call the “bio-mess.”

“I believe there will be many other communities that have financial disasters because of biomass before them; it seems like there’s a very high chance Gainesville will be in the same position,” said Washington.

Opponents are calling for a buy-out of the contract with American Renewables.

In response Hunzinger says, “we have not calculated such a cost, and it’s a moot issue because we have a signed contract; the plant is under construction.”

A video can be found here: Gainesville Biomass Plant

By Kristin Giannas

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