Clemson University breaks ground on $98 million wind-turbine testing facility

Members of the South Carolina Legislature, the state’s congressional delegation and industry executives joined university officials at the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston to mark the official start of construction of the $98 million one-of-a-kind project.

The testing wind power facility will be housed in a former Navy warehouse adjacent to existing rail and ship-handling infrastructure. Planning and construction of the facility is under way and it is expected to begin operating in 2012.

It will be capable of full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drive-train systems for wind turbines in the 5 megawatt to 15 megawatt range with a 30 percent overload capacity. A drive train 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.

Clemson University President James F. Barker told the more than 500 people who attended the groundbreaking ceremony that the testing facility is the perfect example of collaboration at work.

Clemson has a wealth of expertise in many fields, including energy, engineering and sustainability, Barker said. When these resources are combined with a track record of successful collaboration with public and private partners, the value is difficult to quantify.

“South Carolina can combine the strengths of its top-ranked research university with its manufacturing sector to catapult the state into a leading role in the nation’s emerging and important wind-power industry,” he said.

In November 2009, the Restoration Institute and its partners were awarded a $45 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, which was combined with $53 million of matching funds, to build and operate the large-scale testing facility for next-generation wind turbine drive trains at the institute’s research campus on the former Navy base.

The award was the largest single grant ever received by Clemson University. It was made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The university’s partners are: the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority; the S.C. Department of Commerce; the state of South Carolina; South Carolina Public Railways, the S.C. State Ports Authority; and private partners RENK AG, Tony Bakker and James Meadors.

Barker was joined at the groundbreaking ceremony by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Rep. James E. Clyburn, Mayor R. Keith Summey of North Charleston and Department of Energy officials.

John Kelly, executive director of the Clemson University Restoration Institute and Clemson’s vice president of economic development, public service and agriculture, said the testing facility places one of the most important sites for wind energy research and development in South Carolina.

As the wind energy market evolves, South Carolina is strategically positioned to serve as an industrial hub for this evolving industry, he said.

“It’s difficult to overstate what this facility represents for South Carolina,” Kelly said. “From an economic development standpoint, the testing facility will bring statewide benefits.”

Kelly acknowledged the contribution of South Carolina officials in supporting the matching grant.

He thanked Clyburn, in whose district the facility is located, and Graham; state Sens. Glenn McConnell, Hugh Leatherman, Larry Grooms and Paul Campbell; state House speaker Bobby Harrell and Rep. Dan Cooper; other members of the South Carolina Congressional Delegation; the S.C. State Ports Authority; the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority; and the S.C. Department of Commerce.

“I would like to thank everyone connected with the proposal for working so tirelessly to help bring the drive-train testing facility to South Carolina and the Lowcountry,” Kelly said. “Clemson, together with the industry that will grow around the testing facility, will drive wind energy research nationwide.”