By Dillon McLean
Special to The Weekly
In a time when energy prices are soaring and the government is searching for new ways to bring its citizens a renewable source of energy, Florida Keys Hydro Power Corporation wants to provide another alternative.
Keys Hydro Power, run by Chief Executive Officer Douglas Bedgood, is in the process of building and installing tidal turbines in ocean waters near the Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, which was built by Henry Flagler in 1912.
The turbines will be run completely by the changing of the tides, and Bedgood hopes they will be able to generate enough electricity to provide hydropower to the entire state of Florida.
Because the turbines are going to be placed on the ocean floor, the project requires the approval of multiple permits to be able to begin.
“We’ve already received one [permit] from Department of Environmental Protection and one from the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Bedgood. “We are waiting on the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.”
After the permits have all been approved, Keys Hydro Power will then have a year to create a prototype for the turbines before installing one in the Bahia Honda Channel for a 60-day feasibility test.
Bedgood and fellow researchers for Keys Hydro Power had been looking into previously existing turbines made by other companies, but chose to create their own prototype to better fit their situation.
“Most prototypes we’ve seen are rotors, which would disturb the reef and we want to protect every living species, so we won’t be using those,” said Bedgood.
Once the 60-day feasibility test is completed, Keys Hydro Power should know if they have a viable prototype and whether or not they can manage the maintenance for their turbines. If all goes well, they will build a power substation with the help of the Department of Transportation, which will connect with Florida Municipal Energy to provide energy to Florida Residents.
Keys Energy Services, which is the electricity supplier for all Keys residents south of the Seven Mile Bridge, plans on working with Keys Hydro Power and Florida Municipal Power to bring the tidal energy to Lower Keys residents.
While Keys Energy’s involvement in the project is only advisory at this point, Utility Board Chairman, Robert Padron, drafted a resolution in October of 2007 in support of Keys Hydro Power’s plans to study the feasibility of hydroelectric turbines.
There isn’t clear evidence yet if the hydroelectric energy produced by the turbines will bring down energy costs to consumers. Florida Municipal Power will still have to purchase the power created from the turbines from Keys Hydro Power before putting the power into their individual grid, according to Communications and Marketing Coordinator for Keys Energy, Julio Barroso.
“I don’t think you will see a dramatic drop in costs overnight,” said Barroso.
The power produced by the turbines will, however, add to the amount of renewable energy Florida Municipal Power provides though, which Florida Governor Charlie Crist asked to be at least 20 percent of all power sales by the year 2012.
The main concern regarding the installation of the turbines is the effect it will have on wildlife, especially being so close to Bahia Honda State Park.
Keys Hydro Power is taking great precaution to make sure that the turbines would not upset any wildlife, and hopes that if there is any effect, they will be visible after the feasibility test, according to Shirley Freeman, member of the board of directors at Keys Hydro Power.
There will not be a danger to coral on the ocean bottom because the turbines will be slightly raised above the bottom. Fish also shouldn’t be affected because the turbines will move very slowly, at a rate of one rotation every two seconds.
The paddles’ forward edges will also be coated with soft material so that it provides a softer blow if it does indeed hit something in the water.
“At the request of the permitting agencies, we are putting in a catcher in front of it [the turbine] so if a fish is harmed, we will catch it and know,” Freeman said.
Because Keys Hydro Power is a non-profit organization, the project is going to be paid for primarily through private donations.
Keys Hydro Power has also applied for a grant that would include money from President Obama’s stimulus package, which provides $80 billion altogether for renewable energy sources.
“We believe that the power of the ocean tides belongs to everybody,” said Freeman.