Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JEA Funding Dries Up for UNF Research; Cutbacks Suspend a Hydropower Study on an Intracoastal Channel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JEA Funding Dries Up for UNF Research; Cutbacks Suspend a Hydropower Study on an Intracoastal Channel

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

There's a sweet spot in the Intracoastal Waterway where the current might be strong enough to power 100 homes.

But it could be a while before that energy is harnessed or plugged into JEA's grid.

As part of cutbacks this year, the city-owned utility suspended a stipend that the University of North Florida was using to research hydropower in the channel at the edge of Jacksonville.

Engineering professor Joseph Campbell said he fished for the Intracoastal current from an old bridge under the high-rise span of Atlantic Boulevard. Field work started in September 2007.

With student labor and borrowed equipment, project administrative costs were kept to about $1,000. These were paid from a $50,000 grant JEA had been giving UNF to do research and cultivate young engineers to replace an aging JEA staff. Numbers released in September show 20 percent of the utility's engineers are retirement-eligible.

When the nation's financial giants began to tumble this year, JEA, with more than $6 billion in debt, was hit hard. Financial planners trimmed more than $30 million out of the budget. Roughly 10 percent of employees got walking papers.

Under those circumstances, CEO Jim Dickenson said keeping the $50,000 UNF program didn't seem appropriate.

"We're absolutely setting ourselves back," Dickenson said. "But little things add up. You're laying people off, but you're saying let's do this little piece right here. You have to look at things that are mission critical."

Still, the state's utilities are under political pressure to curb carbon emissions. Gov. Charlie Crist has requested more renewables be mixed into the state's energy diet, a move that effectively placed a moratorium on coal-fired plants like one JEA had already spent $4.6 million to plan.

If harnessed properly, Campbell said the Intracoastal's current would be capable of taking 100 average houses off the JEA grid, which gains most of its power from coal and petroleum coke. …

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