Living

One man on mission to harness the current

One man is on a mission to sink his own idea to power the Keys with renewable energy.

Douglas Bedgood wants to harness the readily available energy that surrounds the island chain and put that plan into motion last year.

Bedgood founded Keys Hydro Power, a company dedicated to powering Monroe County with tidal turbines. The big fans would spin slowly, but might generate 160 megawatts of power at all times. That could power more than 80,000 homes.

Now Bedgood’s steadily pushing the project forward, planning to submerge it in Bahia Honda Channel, Fleming Key Cut and Vaca Cut, among other Keys locations.

“Everything’s going along like we planned,” he says.

That plan includes securing turbines to the bottom of sea to draw power from the natural currents that run past. Bedgood is president and CEO of Keys Hydro Power, a not for profit aimed at providing the Keys with renewable energy.

The process is a slow one, he admits, dragged down by the permitting process that protects the Keys marine habitat, governmental regulations and the groundbreaking necessary to coordinate such a project.

The entities Keys Hydro Power will have to coordinate with make for alphabet soup, from KEYS to BOCC to DEP, to name just a few. But Bedgood says he’s encountered support across the county.

Bedgood insists clean coal technologies are no more than less-dirty coal. He says carbon-based fuels should remain buried, and the Keys should become self-sufficient. Harnessing the water’s power is important to that goal, he says.

“We’re way behind the time on this — this is not new,” Bedgood says of hydropower. Indeed, a company in New York’s turbulent East River found its power production so successful — the turbine’s moving parts were moving so fast — that strong enough blades could not be found.

Keys Energy Services, which serves nearly 30,000 customers in the Lower Keys with more than 250 miles of power lines, is watching the project with guarded optimism.

The permitting process is arduous, but it is the cost and insurance that usually cripples efforts to provide power back to municipal power services, says Julio Barroso, a Keys Energy spokesman. Indeed, asking the Florida Energy Office for permission to test a location costs $200,000.

Keys Energy’s contract with the Florida Municipal Power Association requires approval of other power sources.

Keys Hydro Power would sell its power to Florida Municipal at cost. In turn, Florida Municipal would promise to sell that power to Keys Energy at wholesale. The savings will be passed on in the form of a 25 percent reduction in annual bills, Bedgood says. Other money will be returned in grants and scholarships.

Bedgood says the power structure is far from the only hurdle. First came choosing a spot to satisfy the power demands while also protecting wildlife. They chose a strip in the Bahia Honda channel as their prime test site. There the current rushes so fast that the constant flow keeps anything from growing on the rock.

A cage surrounding the slow-spinning blades would protect wildlife, Bedgood says.

Anyone interested in more information on the turbine project can visit the Green Living & Energy Education Expo May 9-11 at Marathon High School, where the company will have a booth. Bedgood is also nominated for a Green Living Award at www.keysglee.com.

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