Crist pledges $10 million to FAU's ocean power generators


By Kimberly Miller

January 31, 2008


DANIA BEACH Florida Atlantic University researcher Rick Driscoll spent 10 minutes last fall explaining to Gov. Charlie Crist how the powerful Gulf Stream can be harnessed to create clean energy for the Sunshine State.

On Thursday, those 10 minutes translated to big bucks as Crist announced he was giving Driscoll's project, which is part of FAU's Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy, $10 million in his proposed 2008-2009 budget.


The money, which is in the proposed Department of Environmental Protection budget, is on top of $5 million the project received in state dollars in 2006.

Crist has made energy conservation and the search for alternative energy sources a priority of his administration. He traveled to FAU's Sea Tech campus in Dania Beach to make the $10 million announcement.

"We're looking at solar, we're looking at wind, and to have the vast amount of energy from the Gulf Stream so close to the Florida coast is another area to explore," Crist said.

The governor's budget is still subject to legislative changes when the session begins in March.

The Gulf Stream, a warm water flow that skims the coast of South Florida, is the planet's largest, most energy-dense ocean current.


The project at FAU aims to place turbines in that current to produce electricity.

Although harnessing ocean energy has been considered for more than a century, no system has been installed in the Gulf Stream for more than a few hours.

The initial three-blade test turbine will be about 10 feet in diameter. It's connected to a main mooring buoy anchored to the ocean floor and a twin-hull observation and control buoy.

It will be placed in the Gulf Stream about 15 miles off the shore of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where the blades will be driven by the 6 mph flow of the Gulf Stream.

The goal is to eventually have 3,000 turbines working in underwater unison to power up to 50 percent of Florida.

Driscoll said he never lobbied Crist for money for the project, but it obviously caught the environmentally friendly governor's eye.


"This was such a welcome surprise," Driscoll said Thursday. "It's hard to get national traction on this kind of project and that's why it's nice to see the state of Florida leading the way."

The $10 million will help the center start other pieces of the ocean energy project that had taken a back burner to the turbines.

One area Driscoll will explore is using the cold water at the bottom of the ocean to help air condition condominiums and large buildings along the coast.


"You don't have to use energy to produce the cold. It already exists out there," Driscoll said.

The turbine project has slowed in recent months as FAU works to get permitting to drop the first turbine in the Gulf Stream. Driscoll estimates it could be another three months before a permit is issued.