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Clemson to build $98M wind turbine test facility in North Charleston

Nov. 24, 2009
Charleston Regional Business Journal
By staff
Next-generation wind turbines and drivetrains will be tested by the Clemson University Restoration Institute, a move that is expected to create hundreds of jobs and place one of the nation's most important sites for wind energy research and development in South Carolina, Clemson officials announced today.

The Restoration Institute and its partners have received a $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which they will combine with $53 million in matching funding, to build and operate a large-scale wind turbine drivetrain testing facility at the institute's research campus on the former Navy base.

Clemson officials said proximity to the Port of Charleston was crucial to its choice of a site for the testing facility. The drivetrains will be massive and generally must be transported by sea. The units can be as large as 20 feet in diameter and 60 feet long, officials said, weighing 18,000 pounds.
The Department of Energy estimates that South Carolina could gain 10,000 to 20,000 new jobs related to the wind power industry during the next 20 years.
The announcement was made by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
A drivetrain takes energy generated by a turbine's blades and increases the rotational speed to drive the electrical generator, similar to the transmission in a car.

The university's public partners are:
•The Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority
•The S.C. Department of Commerce
•The State of South Carolina
•S.C. Public Railways
•The S.C. State Ports Authority

Private partners are:
•Renk AG
•Tony Bakker
•James Meadors

The testing facility will be housed in Building 69, a former Navy warehouse adjacent to existing rail and ship-handling infrastructure. It will be capable of full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drivetrain systems for wind turbines in the 5-megawatt to 15-megawatt range, with a 30% overload capacity.

Planning and construction of the facility will begin in the first quarter of 2010, with a targeted operational date in the third quarter of 2012.
John Kelly, executive director of the Clemson University Restoration Institute and vice president of public service and agriculture and economic development, said this award will further Clemson University's strength in research and education and support the establishment of a wind energy manufacturing cluster in South Carolina.

In the short term, the Restoration Institute estimates the initiative will create at least 113 temporary jobs associated with construction of the facility and 21 full-time jobs. It also will generate 568 indirect jobs, for a total of 852 jobs.

"As the wind energy market emerges along the East Coast and turbines continue to grow in size and weight, South Carolina is strategically positioned to serve as an industrial hub for this evolving industry," Kelly said.
While current turbine technology has enabled wind energy to become a viable resource in today's energy market, continued technological advancement will be required to achieve the "20% Wind by 2030 Scenario," as determined by the Department of Energy.

Nick Rigas, director of the Restoration Institute's Renewable Energy focus area, said the state-of-the-art testing facility, combined with South Carolina's strengths such as outstanding port and large-scale shipbuilding facilities, local steel manufacturing and world-renowned research institutions, mean the state will play a central role in realizing the nation's energy goals.

"The importance of this grant should not be understated," Rigas said. "Clemson, together with the industry that will grow around the testing facility, will drive wind energy research nationwide."

Clemson University President James F. Barker said this grant means the university can combine its strengths to catapult South Carolina to a leading role in the nation's emerging and important wind power industry.
Kelly acknowledged the contribution of South Carolina's officials on the grant match component of the Restoration Institute's proposal.

He thanked particularly Rep. James Clyburn and Sen. Lindsey Graham; at the state level, Sens. Glenn McConnell, Hugh Leatherman, Larry Grooms and Paul Campbell, Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell and Rep. Dan Cooper; other members of the S.C. congressional delegation; the State Ports Authority; the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority; and the S.C. Department of Commerce.
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