Contracts advance for drivetrain test facility

Charleston Regional Business Journal
Ashley Fletcher Frampton
May 23, 2011

The Clemson University Restoration Institute is finalizing major contracts for the design and construction of its wind turbine drivetrain test facility, and officials expect to work to begin in June.

Clemson recently awarded a $2.4 million engineering contract for the project to AEC Engineering, said Peter Hull, spokesman for the Clemson University Restoration Institute.

AEC is an international firm with U.S. offices in Richmond, Va. and Minneapolis, Minn., and has prior experience designing and managing construction of a wind turbine test facility, according to its website. AEC officials could not be reached for comment.

Choate Construction of Mount Pleasant and Clemson are negotiating a construction management contract, officials with both groups said.

The company, selected through a competitive process, is operating under a notice of intent for a contract worth $22 million, said Matt Brewer, director of business development.

Brewer said Choate has experience building one-of-a-kind projects, including a recently completed wind tunnel research facility in Concord, N.C., that several NASCAR race teams use to test their cars’ aerodynamics.

“Although the Clemson project clearly presents its own set of unique challenges, we anticipate some of the same complexities that were encountered when building the test facility in Concord,” Brewer said.

The Clemson University Restoration Institute’s drivetrain test facility will be housed in Building 69, a former Navy warehouse on the former Navy base in North Charleston.

When completed in 2012, it will be the site where enormous turbines that convert wind to electricity get pushed to their limits to ensure they live up to manufacturers’ standards before they are installed. Using electricity, the facility will test the turbines’ drivetrains, the box that connects to the long rotor blades and transforms their rotations into power.

Most of the drivetrains tested at the Clemson facility will be used for off-shore wind applications rather than on land, officials have said.

Transforming the Navy warehouse building into a test site requires digging eight feet into the ground, driving deep piles and installing a continuous-pour concrete foundation to stabilize the test rigs and surrounding buildings, Brewer said. The building is expected to achieve a silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.

Brewer said it is the company and Clemson’s goal to include as much local participation on the project as possible.

“We will be having a workshop in the near future to make the local interested contractors aware of the project requirements so they have an opportunity to participate,” he said.

The work will involve about 200 construction jobs, Clemson officials have said.

Clemson’s third major contract on the project is for design and construction of the two rigs that wind industry manufacturers will use to test their drivetrains. One will test drivetrains generating up to 7.5 megawatts of energy, and the other will test drivetrains generating up to 15 megawatts.

That $39 million contract is with Renk Lobeco, an Indiana company that partnered with the institute on the project in 2009 when it was submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy for a grant. Energy Department officials asked that Renk Lobeco continue working on the project, Hull said.

Clemson University, along with state and local officials, in late October held an official groundbreaking ceremony for the test facility. Since then, Hull said that pre-construction work has been under way, including engineering and site clearing.

Hull said the contracts for construction management, engineering for the facility and engineering and construction of the rigs are the three major contracts that Clemson will award for the project.

The facility is scheduled to be fully operational by late 2012. The smaller test rig will come online sooner, probably in the late spring of 2012, Hull said. The larger rig will be completed later in the year.

The $98 million project is financed with a $45 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department, money that was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The project has $53 in matching fund from state entities and private sources.

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